It happens frequently when I meet someone new. We each say what work we do, and then he or she says, “You are a man. Why are you interested in family planning?”
This is a problem. Most people perceive family planning and reproductive rights as women’s issues. I think that is largely the fault of those of us who work in the field of family planning and reproductive rights. We talk primarily about the benefits this field has for women’s health and autonomy. While these benefits are great, I believe that when we focus only on them, we fail explain to many audiences why they might also be interested in family planning and reproductive rights.
Many men do, of course, care about family planning. They value the ability to plan when to become fathers. They want to be protected against sexually transmitted diseases, and they support the health and wellbeing of women.
However, it is no secret that many people–voters, leaders and politicians–are not particularly interested in women’s health and autonomy. That is sad and wrong. While we work to change that, we can also simultaneously highlight issues of widespread interest that are greatly affected by family planning.
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Here is my list of some reasons why family planning and reproductive rights matter beyond women’s health and autonomy. What else would you add?
Family planning and reproductive rights:
- Help families stay out of poverty. Given the current national focus on jobs and economic growth, there is no better time to highlight how the ability to avoid an unwanted pregnancy is central to financial stability for women, men and families (and probably communities and nations as well).
- Improve children’s health and wellbeing. Children do better when they are born to parents who want them and are able to provide a stable environment for them. I think that few average voters and elites make this connection. And the linkage is not front and center when they consider topics like sex education, contraception or abortion.
- Reduce teen pregnancy and its associated social costs (and, of course, its impact on teen parents’ opportunities for education and career choices)
- Protect the environment by reducing population growth. Population growth is a significant contributor to many environmental problems including habitat loss and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Promote global security by reducing rapid population growth that can lead to large numbers of young people with no jobs and lots of time on their hands. While the relationship between population growth and political unrest is complex, it provides potential for developing a new constituency for enhancing family planning and reproductive rights.
There is nothing particularly new on this list. Several individuals and organizations within our field have talked about these benefits for years. However, I think talking about these connections is the exception, rather than the rule, when people in our field talk about the benefits of family planning and reproductive rights.
Sadly, when many people hear family planning and reproductive rights, they still do not make the connection to poverty, children’s wellbeing, teenagers’ prospects for success, the environment, and global security. By talking about these connections and highlighting the many varied benefits that family planning and reproductive rights offer, I believe we can expand our support.