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Privacy violations of imposed family planning: the case of compulsory sterilization of women in Jamaica » Family Planning

Privacy violations of imposed family planning: the case of compulsory sterilization of women in Jamaica

October 9th, 2008 by jliebner@stanford.edu Leave a reply »

The number of children a women bears and when she has them will unavoidably affect her quality of life and the roles she will fulfill in her future.  This ability is affected by the availability of family planning programs and methods of contraception.  In some regions of the world where access to contraception is limited, fertility rates and maternal mortality remain high, whereas fertility rates have dropped dramatically in some of the world’s poorest countries. This has been due to a combination of factors including family planning, increased access to education for women, an emphasis on women in the labor force, delayed marriage, and in some cases, national laws that limit the number of children per family.

In the realm of family planning, the role of government often comes in conflict between aiming to improve public health and violating a woman’s right to privacy and self-autonomy. Population growth and high total fertility rates can present significant development and economic problems for developing countries, not to mention the health ramifications that women in these countries face after giving birth too soon or giving birth to several children within a short time span.  While improved access to and use of contraception empowers women to control when they bear children, the types of contraception used in a community are often not reflective of a woman’s preference, but what is affordable and simply made available.  Government often affects these factors and even impose certain limitations to the number of children allowed per family and the methodologies to prevent additional pregnancies.  The most obvious case is China, with its famous one-child policy.

My contributions to this blog, however, will focus on the example of Jamaica, where teenage pregnancy is prevalent.  I will address the issues of access and use of contraception among young Jamaican women, a practice often complicated by social and cultural ideals, and problems presented by the proposed government solutions to control female fertility, including measures that violate a woman’s right to privacy and self-autonomy.  While many women around the world may want to limit their pregnancies and lack the resources to do so, the concept of imposed family planning can remove the aspect of choice and often introduces gender specific privacy violations as well as furthering gender inequality.

Women have long been defined in terms of their reproductive roles.  Their lives have thus been shaped by measures that affect their fertility and their ability to have children.  Contraceptive practices often fall to the responsibility of women, which in some circumstances, result in repeated abortions where permitted or sterilization procedures, both associated with psychological effects.  Measures that target these procedures unfairly isolate women as the source of the problem.

This case study of family planning practices in Jamaica will attempt to address the complex a myriad of social, cultural, and economic factors that have contributed to the state of teenage pregnancy, the problems posed by specific government interventions, and alternative methods and programs to address the issue of fertility and women’s reproductive health rights.

Foremost, I hope this case study will highlight the focus of Maggie’s contributions: the need for improved education and access to contraception.



  1. Max Romano says:

    I really enjoyed how your blog focused in on an individual woman’s perspective and the context influencing her actions. The focus on Jamaica is also good and I’m definitely looking forward to whatever information you come up with. I also thought your wording in the last”effects on women” section was great, which summed up the objectification of women as child-bearers when it said that “their lives have thus been shaped by measures that affect their fertility and their ability to have children.” I think our blogs will overlap quite a bit, and I look forward to seeing what kinds of differences emerge.

  2. Maggie Chen says:

    Julia, I think it was a great idea to start out with a broader background on family planning, then narrow in on the topic of Jamaica. It helps to pull the reader in, and answered the question of why you specifically chose this case study. One thing that kept coming up in my head as I read your entry is the role of men. You’re right, the responsibility of family planning often does fall on women, but I’d be interested to hear what men in Jamaica are saying about what’s going on. Some questions to spark ideas for the future…Are men off the hook on this issue? In some societies, men’s sexual urges are seen as uncontrollable and maybe even untouchable in terms of interventions. Or are men calling for sterilization or more birth control options? Something that Amy reminded me of in a comment on my post is that vasectomies remain much simpler and less risky as a form of permanent birth control, and maybe deserve more focus.

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