Should men be concerned with family planning in Pakistan?


Bachay, dou hi achay.

(Two children are good enough)

If you were present during the 80s and 90s in Pakistan, you would be familiar with this tagline which was so candidly crafted by the Ministry of Population Welfare and the GreenStar administration back then, to curb population growth.

The population of Pakistan stands at a whooping 191.1 million, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2014-15. Furthermore, the population growth rate is at an increase of 1.9 per cent annually. Compare this with the ever-decreasing resources that this country manages to scrape through (food, water, utilities, oil and the likes) and you would understand why family planning (FP) and birth control are two very important issues for the land of the pure.

For the longest period, Pakistanis have been aloof about FP. The notion that “Allah nay bacha diya hai, wohi rizq bhi dega” (since God gave us this child, He will sustain him/her) has left many families with desperate financial crises. Families with seven to eight children, having only one breadwinner – and that too on minimum wage – suffer from malnourishment and monetary instability. This, in turn, leads to other health-related and social issues which large families with fewer means of income have to face. In light of all of this, if FP is taken seriously and the use of contraceptives is propagated without any taboo associated with it, we might be able to help families sustain themselves without crossing the poverty line.

And I am not alone in believe this. People have started thinking on these lines in Pakistan – at least in recent years.

A USAID report suggested that the use of FP has increased from 5% in the 1960s to 30% in 2006-07 and more so from 2010-onwards. But previously it was mostly women who were interested in accommodating contraceptive. The percentage of men partaking in FP has generally been low. However, according to a report published in a local English daily in 2014, it was discovered that men in Punjab were more interested in FP now than ever and were open to the usage of contraceptives to manage the size of their family.

While it is just one province right now, I cannot help but feel optimistic.

Men are the usually the decision-makers in any family and if they are interested in spearheading a FP campaign, then that is good news. This would make it more effective, as often women who do want to employ FP methods are discouraged to do so, because their husbands won’t allow it. So having men on board is a huge improvement.

Other provinces should follow suit, and this can only happen if the financial aspects associated with FP are highlighted more. In the study on Punjabi men, the main cause discussed for this change in attitude was that FP campaigns were addressing monetary cues for men – that a smaller family would mean a happier one in terms of expenses.

In another feature story, by Pakistani journalist Farahnaz Zahidi, the case of Benazir Chandio was discussed, who has started propagating about FP to the people of Allan Chandio in Shaheed Benazirabad district, Sindh. Such stories need to be encouraged and more people need to be motivated to partake in this campaign and create a difference. Similarly, like the feature story suggested, health workers need to take up this responsibility and introduce the idea of FP amongst their patients. They should answer their queries and assist them in whatever way possible.

All it takes is one voice, one idea and one person’s motivation to bring about tangible, substantial change. Let us not hinder progress for the sake of redundant beliefs and archaic practices. Let us embrace the future and march forward with all the resources that we have, managed in the best possible way.