The role of husbands in women's health-seeking behaviour

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University of New Brunswick


I have studied the role of husbands in women’s health-seeking behavior. My research participants are women, men, and community-level workers of a local NGO, from a marginalised and impoverished community residing in a slum neighborhood known as Gautampuri (Delhi, India). I used qualitative research design and fieldwork strategy, and participant observation, focus-group discussions and semi-structured interview methods. The major contribution of my research to sociological theory is the construct of the concepts of ideal versus actual role of husbands. My findings reveal that in Gautampuri community, husbands’ role is articulated in two distinct ways: the ‘actual’ and the ‘ideal’ role performance (that is, what husbands’ role should be); and the role is comprised of three aspects. The first aspect, which is husbands’ role in women’s health and illness-related behaviors, entails two issues. The first issue (husbands’ knowledge of women’s health/illnesses) embodies a lack of awareness, since matters pertaining to women’s health/bodies are deemed as a woman’s domain, and men always remain detached. The second issue (husbands’ attitudes concerning wellbeing/ailments of their wives) is characterised by apathy and avoidance, and in particular, husbands do not routinely enquire about their wives’ wellbeing. The second aspect, which is husband’s role in the utilisation of medical care services by wives, involves three issues. As regards the first issue (decisions regarding wives’ medical care), the extent and impact of husbands’ influence varies significantly. The second issue (medical treatment of wives) is signified by husbands’ lack of involvement. The third issue (household tasks of wives during illnesses) is characterised by nonparticipation from husbands. This affects women’s health-seeking behavior, as when ailing or bedridden, the foremost impact is on their daily chores, so wives somehow continue their chores; consequently hindering recuperation and/or aggravating ailments. The third aspect, which is husbands’ role in the reproductive behavior of women, encompasses two issues. With respect to the first issue (pregnancy and childbirth), the ‘actual’ role is comprised of a lack of involvement, due to reasons like their tradition of letting elders of husband’s family supervise reproductive matters. Vis-à-vis the second issue (women’s contraception), the ‘actual’ role is contingent on type of contraception. For permanent methods, there is husbands’ influence, but not for temporary methods as wives use them surreptitiously.