His living conditions are not enviable; nor does he have an enviable job. He lives in Kadamkuan Lohanipur, an almost hidden community in the midst of Bihar’s capital, Patna. A narrow muddy path leads us to his one-room house. It is home to his entire family– his parents, wife and two-year-old son. He is a carpenter who works for a daily wage.
Yet, Jitendra is a stand out father, in part because he supports his wife in making choices that would keep her and the family healthy and happy, including family planning.
When his wife Sabiya was pregnant, the couple went to Patna Medical College and Hospital, and was counseled about the importance of family planning — that a gap between two children helps keep the mother and baby alive and healthy. The mother gets time to recover from childbirth, replenishes her energy and is better prepared for the next birth. Family planning also helps the child — children born too close together have a much greater chance of being premature, or underweight. Family planning gives couples like Jitendra and Sabiya a real chance at educating their children, helping them prepare for a brighter future.
Jitendra supported Sabiya in her desire to safely plan their family. He took it upon himself to talk to his parents, who like many traditional Indian families, thought having children should not be interfered with. He made sure Sabiya attended her follow up health visits and that she got the required rest and nutrition after giving birth.
“Anyone who loves his wife should definitely adopt some family planning method,” he says. “Only if my wife stays healthy and happy can she look after our baby well.”
Not every father or husband in Bihar is like Jitendra. The women in this state have the highest number of children in the country. Half of the married women in Bihar were wed in their teens – and 37% of women there have an unmet need for family planning. Health officials in the state are trying hard to make family planning options available to every woman who desires them. But along with the provision of quality family planning services, there is something more that needs to change in the state, and that is the attitude of men. Sanjay Kumar, the Executive Director of Bihar’s State Health Society, says, “Here much more needs to be done and it is not only with respect to health. It is your attitude towards how you seek healthcare. And to a very large extent, it is also symptomatic of the kind of gender relations we have in society…A large number of our girls are getting married very early — 46% of the girls are getting married by 16. Almost two-thirds are mothers by the time they’re 19. (While) it’s the woman who needs the services, it’s the attitude of the men, especially the husband, (which) is extremely important.”
Husbands like Jitendra are helping empower their wives with family planning choices and changing the lives of their families for the better. Watch the full story of Jitendra Kumar and his family here.
Indrani Kashyup works for Jhpiego, a global health non-profit and affiliate of Johns Hopkins University that is working with the government of India to give women greater access to family planning services.
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Photo: Jitendra & Sabiya Kumar with their first child. Courtesy of Jhpiego.