The arrival of Switzerland’s first male midwife, 33-year-old Burundian Majaliwa Vyankandondera, at Geneva University Hospital has caused quite a stir.
While some welcome the move as a step towards equality, the head of the Swiss Midwives Association is opposed to men in what has been traditionally a woman’s profession.
The media attention over Vyankandondera, known as Madja, has been huge. Television cameras have followed him around at work and he has appeared in several articles and on radio.
The male midwife is not giving any more interviews. He prefers to get on with his work, he says.
Vyankandondera was a nurse in Burundi before coming to Switzerland as a refugee. As the Swiss authorities did not recognise his diploma, he had to take a four-year midwifery course in Geneva – the first man to do so in Switzerland.
He has been working at Geneva University Hospital for more than eight months and clearly loves the job.
Full of life
"This place is full of life and when I get up in the morning I know that I will be able to look after all the mothers and babies," Vyankandondera told Swiss television.
"It’s really a great pleasure and I’m very motivated and passionate about the work."
Although some mothers admit they were a little surprised at first, Vyankandondera has been well accepted on the maternity ward – by the babies as well.
At the moment the male midwife is working in post-natal care. He will need to be on the job for a year before he can assist at births.
There are still women who prefer to have a female midwife either for personal or religious reasons. In this case, Vyankandondera says that he is willing to respect their wishes and step back.
And not all his colleagues are convinced that men should be allowed into the profession.
"I’m of the opinion that midwifery has always been a women’s profession and it should stay so. Men should stay out of it," said Lucia Mikeler Knaack, head of the Swiss Midwives Association.
One of Mikeler’s main arguments is that only another woman can really understand what women go through during pregnancy and childbirth. Some women might feel more comfortable being examined or looked after by another woman, she says.
Added to this is the fact that there would always have to be an additional female midwife on shift to deal with patients who are uncomfortable being looked after by a man.
Mikeler admits that her view is not shared by all members of the association.
Some health care professionals have welcomed male midwives as a step towards equality, and argue that being able to deal with mothers and babies is a talent that doesn’t depend on the sex of the midwife.
Vyankandondera agrees with this point of view.
"I always say some men are also born with an instinct for this kind of work - we shouldn’t try and hide it away, we should flaunt it," he said.
"I think there’s no problem at all with men doing this job."
Midwifery still remains very women-dominated in Europe. In neighbouring Germany only one per cent of midwives are men and in France the number stands at 0.5 per cent. Italy has one of the highest figures at 3.5 per cent.
In any case, it seems that Vyankandondera has helped pave the way for more men to enter the profession in Switzerland. Two more men have now enrolled at the school for midwives in Geneva.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
Number of male midwives per country: