Family planning: Men and women must plan together, National Mirror

Date: January 1, 1970
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Involving men in family planning programmes remains an uphill battle for Neighbourhood Health Committees in Zambia.
Involving men in family planning programmes remains an uphill battle for Neighbourhood Health Committees in Zambia.

This article may be used to:

  • Illustrate an example of how to mainstream gender in news coverage.

Trainer’s notes

Reproductive rights are considered among the key human rights issues. These rights are guaranteed in many of the international human rights treaties, and since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development ( Egypt) and the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women and within the final platforms from each, reproductive rights have been recognised as key in achieving gender equality and national development.


In patriarchal societies women’s sexual and reproductive rights are often considered one and the same thing. This is because women’s reproductive capacity is viewed as their defining characteristic, while sexual enjoyment is seen as the preserve of men.


Reproductive rights include:

  • The rights of couples and individuals to freely and responsibly decide the number, spacing and timing of their children.
  • The right to have the information, education and means to make the above decisions.
  • The right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.
  • The right to make decisions free from discrimination, coercion and violence.

Sexual rights include:

  • The right of all people to make free and responsible decisions about all aspects of their own sexuality, including protecting and promoting their reproductive and sexual health.
  • The right of men and women to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence in their sexual lives, and when making sexual decisions.
  • The right to expect and demand equality, full consent, mutual respect and shared responsibility in all sexual relationships.

Control over their reproductive life is central to women’s existence, because without these rights, women cannot participate fully in society in a fair manner that addresses their needs. Now in many countries, women’s choices or imposed or limited by direct or indirect social, economic and cultural factors.


Analysis of case study

The Zambian case study centers on men’s participation in family planning, which is linked to the right to have information, education and means as couples and individuals to decide on the number and timing of children. The reporter has used a gender approach to analyse the issues through the sources chosen and the perspective they give to the issue. The article is a fairly good example of how to mainstream gender into the news.


Some of the gender issues highlighted in the story include:

  • Men directly or indirectly control women’s decisions on family planning;
  • Culture and tradition are still strong factors in men not participating in family planning issues with women. For e.g. men still associate their wealth with the number of children they have, because children and men’s wives are considered ‘property’;
  • Men view family planning as women’s concern;
  • Women cannot talk openly with their husbands about sexual issues and resort to hiding their visits to family planning clinics;
  • Women may want fewer children, but still feel they do not have control over their bodies;
  • Men believe that having more children keeps women in their place in the home.

The article also examines the impact of large families economically, noting that often it is children from these homes who are unable to go to school, because the family resources are few. Girls are often the first to be withdrawn from school, because it is assumed they will be married. Without education or skills, and by marrying young, a woman will continue to bear many children, because of her economic dependence on her husband and they way she has been socialised culturally.


The story however, is only told through the voices of men and women in the Neighbourhood Health Committees created by the Ministry of Health in an effort to decentralise. Three women and one man speak in the story.


While the issues raised by the sources on why men do not participate in family planning are pertinent, the sources ‘speak on behalf’ of the people in communities. The reporter also should have interviewed women and men who are not members of the committee, as well as women and men reproductive rights, women’s rights and human rights activists.


The issue of reproductive health education is raised in the article. The voices of young women and men also would have strengthened this aspect of the story, and would have illustrated the role socialisation plays in reproductive choices.


Facts such as the average number of children a Zambian woman has; the total population of the country and the trend in the population growth rate would have help to situate the issue in a context. Also, the reporter makes no distinction as to whether men and women in urban and rural localities, or the educated and uneducated, follow the same pattern of not participating in family planning.


The story is packaged well with the central message of women and men working together as the focus in the article, headline, image and caption.


Training exercises


Exercise one: Define the following terms:

  1. Reproductive health;
  2. Reproductive health care;
  3. Reproductive rights.

Discuss the definitions.



Exercise two: Discuss the following questions:

  1. What is the first thing you think of when you think of reproductive and sexual rights? The next thing?
  2. What major decisions in your life have been related to reproduction and sexuality(e.g. choosing a partner, taking a job, finishing education or training)?
  3. Has anyone tried to make decisions about reproduction and sexuality for you?
  4. What are the main controversies in your community about reproduction and sexual rights?
  5. What are the main incentives in your community for large families? For small families? Which arguments are most influential to you?

Exercise three: Read the case study, ‘Family Planning: Men and women must plan together’. Discuss the following:


  1. What are the reproductive rights issues in the story?
  2. According to the story, who has control over reproductive decision-making? Men or women? Explain answer.
  3. What information would have enhanced the gender analysis of reproductive health care and rights in Zambia?

Exercise four: Using the case study, discuss the following:


  1. Who speaks in the story?
  2. Who does not speak?
  3. From whose perspective is the story told?
  4. Which voices are needed for a more balanced story?



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