Men and Family Planning: The Missing Link

Dec 17th, 2013 | By | Category: Family Planning

By Suzanne York,

At the recent International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), a big gathering of leaders and activists on family planning and reproductive health, there was a big effort to promote the role of men.  While it may seem obvious, men are sometimes missing from family planning.

Certainly education and empowerment of women and girls on reproductive health and rights is of the utmost importance.  There is no question this should be the main focus.  But if men and boys are not involved, then efforts supporting family planning will be less successful.

The sessions at the ICFP on men in family planning were unanimous that male involvement in reproductive health and decision-making is sorely needed.

[photo credit:]

Using the Right Words, Respecting Cultures

Dr. Zeba Sathar, country director for the Population Council in Pakistan, emphasized understanding the role of language and communication.  She noted that while the concept of spacing children for the health of the mother is something that Islam “really endorses”, the language of family planning itself can be a problem.

Pakistan, with a current population of 180 million people, which could rise to over 300 million people in 2050, is a good example of where men should be more involved in and educated about family planning.

According to Dr. Sathar, Pakistan has high levels of unmet need for family planning (25%) and low contraceptive prevalence rate (30%) suggesting a need to grapple with the barriers to contraceptive use both among women and men.

Recently in the Daily Times of Pakistan, writer/researcher Haroon Mustafa Janjua opined that Pakistan’s rapid population growth reflects the need for greater participation of men in family planning and the need for “sensitization toward reproductive health issues and practices.”  Most importantly, he wrote “Men, especially the clerics, must be encouraged and trained to talk about such issues with their spouses and then with their family doctors to instill confidence among women that their well-being is of the utmost importance.”

Perceptions on Vasectomies

In one session, some great comments from the audience hit the nail on the head.  One woman from the Philippines said that men are ready for vasectomies, but there are few providers (in their region), few professionals talk with men about it, and that the procedure is not promoted at all.  And someone from Zambia commented that family planning is seen as a woman’s issue and that efforts must be made to change that mindset.

In another day’s session, Gertrude Nyaabe, from the Population Council in Ghana, discussed her study looking at perceptions on vasectomies.  She felt that male involvement was an emerging global reproductive health issue (especially in Ghana, with a male sterilization rate of 0%).  In one study that Nyaabe undertook, she found the following: a misconception that vasectomy is a form of castration; lack of role models (promoting the procedure); future uncertainties (fear loss of family); religion (it is an act against God); and that condoms could be a better option.

Women, she said, can play a key role in helping men overcome fear of divorce, loss of virility and/or productivity.

Nyaaba recommended creating “vasectomy ambassadors” (especially public figures), engaging men’s groups in family planning discussions, and implementing promotional efforts that target both women and men.

Billboard advertising vasectomies in Kenya [photo credit:]

Let’s Talk

Much of this comes down to spousal/partner communication.  Male involvement is essential if high fertility rates are to be brought down around the world and reduce the unmet need for family planning.

Men are part of women’s reproductive lives, but if they are not included in voluntary family planning efforts, then problems will continue with women bearing the burden that should be shared.  Ensuring that males are part of the reproductive picture will help lead to healthier and more equitable relationships and families.

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