“I have the same skills and education as a female midwife”, says Jojit Gonzales Binimile, a male midwife from the Philippines. Jojit works in his community in the town of Pantukan in Mindanao, a region in the Philippines troubled by civil war. He won a scholarship from the Department of Health to study midwifery at the University of the Philippines Manila-School of Health Sciences, Palo, Leyte, Philippines. He says of midwifery that it is: “one of the most challenging professions”. Jojit has returned to his community, where he works in the health center and a large catchment area. Only 1% of midwives in the Philippines are male and usually they don’t practice because delivering mothers expect the birth attendant to be female. Jojit has experienced the hesitancy of his clients himself: “Almost always I can see their surprise when I start examining them”, he says.
The women often address him as doctor and are then taken aback when he tells them that he is their midwife. After the initial shyness and surprise pass, the women are amazed that their delivery is attended by a male midwife. Jojit is convinced that he is caring for the women with as much love and empathy as a female midwife, even though he cannot relate to the labor pain the mother is experiencing. He is making up for this physical limitation with respect and kindness for the delivering woman. “I always greet the woman with a smile and explain and reassure her that she is in good hands with me”. Great help also comes from his female colleagues when they reiterate and tell the woman: “he can do the same as we do”. This endorsement is a powerful proof for Jojit’s skills and he is always very thankful for it.
And if all reassurance and endorsement do not help, Jojit is not shy to make a joke: “I can’t feel the pain the way you feel it because I did not experience normal labor, I automatically had a caesarian section”. When they hear this joke, the mother feels more relaxed and comfortable in telling him what she feels at the moment and starts to trust him. In the past eight months since Jojit has started working at the rural health center in Mindanao, word has spread among the childbearing women in his community, that there is a male midwife delivering babies. “When they come to our facility, they are curious to see if I will be there to attend their birth”, laughs Jojit.
A clear advantage of being a male midwife is for Jojit the time he goes out to talk to the men in the community. Women are often hesitant to talk to him about reproductive health, particularly regarding family planning. However, it is exactly the opposite with men, who prefer talking to him about family planning methods rather than talking to a female midwife. “They openly share their fears of the effects of a vasectomy or the use of a condom”, says Jojit. They feel more comfortable with him as he can relate to their physical concerns. He knows that they take his advice as they perceive him as one of them. Jojit makes sure to send out a strong message saying that the husband has to take care of his wife by planning the family. “You are responsible for your wife”, Jojit reminds the men. He points out that by planning the family the husband helps his wife to space the births of their children so that her body is ready for another pregnancy. Depending on the circumstances Jojit sometimes also recommends family planning methods for the wife to not get pregnant again if she is in danger of not surviving another pregnancy and birth.
Jojit is as passionate and enthusiastic about his profession as a female midwife would be and he is convinced that midwifery should not be about gender but about ensuring the quality of care for the mother and her baby. Jojit strives to be recognized in his profession as a male midwife thanks to his skills and competencies and not because he is “different”. “I hope that one day male midwives will be entrusted to attend deliveries, have their own catchment areas and own communities, just as female midwives have and that people accept and trust us fully that we also have the heart for service to the unserved and the underserved”. In the end, all Jojit wants is to serve the families of his community.