Gatekeepers or Equal Partners?
A growing body of literature, particularly from low and middle-income countries, has focused on the role of male involvement in maternal care as a crucial strategy to improve maternal and neonatal health outcomes. The purpose of this three-paper dissertation is to add to this evidence base within the context of India, and to gain an in-depth understanding of one aspect of male involvement – that is, male partner attendance in antenatal care. This dissertation utilized data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3, 2005-06 and NFHS-4, 2015-16) and was framed using the Social Ecological Model, Connell’s Theory of Gender and Power and a Gender-Transformative lens. Paper 1 summarized the levels of male partner attendance in antenatal care and assessed changes over time. Further, multivariable logistic regression models were used to examine the factors influencing male partner attendance in antenatal care. The results show an overall increase in male partner attendance in India during the period of 2005-06 to 2015-16, with the Southern region reporting the highest level of male partner attendance in both years. Higher level of education and household wealth, increased knowledge of pregnancy-related complications, older age at marriage, and women’s autonomy were positively associated with male partner attendance in antenatal care. Paper 2 examined the association between male partner attendance in antenatal care and maternal health service utilization. Controlling for all socio-demographic variables and adjusting for report of pregnancy complications, the results showed that women who were accompanied by a male partner for antenatal care reported increased odds of maternal health service utilization (early initiation of antenatal care, frequency of antenatal care contacts and institutional delivery). While the place of residence (rural/urban) did not influence the association between male partner attendance and maternal health service utilization, region had a significant moderating effect. Paper 3 examined the association between antenatal care and infant birth weight, adjusting for gestational age. Further, the analysis also assessed whether the relationship between antenatal care and infant birth weight varied by male partner attendance. Findings indicate that early initiation of antenatal care and maternal immunization was associated with reduced odds of low birth weight among infants. The results showed that male partner attendance in antenatal care did not have a moderating influence. Taken together, the findings of the three papers have implications for policy and practice; further, they provide support for interventions that aim for a more inclusive and gender-transformative approach to maternal and neonatal health.