In this post particularly, I feel led to challenge the hegemonic narrative told about "family planning" and the official Jamaican state agency that is powered to tell this narrative and shape the Jamaican population in accepting the narrative of "family planning" or what I would rather name "family control".
As a Judeo-Christian, I respect traditional family institutions deeply. I consider myself a family man and see the family as the basic unit of society and all communities. I also welcome the idea of state institutions to support strong families while recognizing some diversity to the families that exist in contemporary society (some of which are a direct result of economic changes and how society has changed traditional arrangements to accommodate the labour force requirements of the new economy).
Recently, I watched a advertisement from the National Family Planning Board (NFPB) that got me thinking of how the "family control" narrative is serving to support the economic arrangement of neoliberal and capitalist economy. The NFPB in its advertisement, during a Jamaica Information Service broadcast, showed a cartoon of a pregnant lady surrounded by children with an audio clip about eradicating poverty by planning your family. For this, I must indicate that I am not aware of any empirical studies that suggest that the cause of poverty is directly related to the number of members in your family. In fact, a 2014 PoliticoFact check indicated that the claim that having children leads to poverty was false as there are many confounding factors.
That said, while there might be a correlation between the number of children one has and one's wealth (or poverty), there is little empirical evidence of direct causation. In addition, the very idea that one must sacrifice family size in order to acquire wealth is a hegemonic idea that supports the neoliberal economic regime and the values espoused by the capitalist class. To understand this, when we look at traditional and pre-capitalist societies and economies, the number of children one had and the size of the family were of importance to survival. When humans used to live in hunting-gathering societies or agrarian economies, the number of children and the extended family were of importance as a labour force and for community security/policing.
Today, the dominant narrative is that we must focus on individual careers and in getting the "good" life of the ownership of materials goods and the accumulation of wealth. To do this, the emphasis is on regulating the size of your family and controlling the number of offspring, so that you can have enough time to work and contribute to the accumulation of wealth and serve the need of the economic elite and ruling class.
Getting back to the NFPB, I see the institution as problematic because it primarily focuses on reproductive decisions. When I browse the website (http://jnfpb.org/) and even its ads about its services, the institution primarily focuses on the supporting reproductive decisions of Jamaicans (and in particular on contraception services). There is no focus on equipping parents with parenting skills or helping Jamaicans understand the various types of families and how to cope. I see no services that offer support in martial counselling and in making marital commitments. No services on counselling parents with marital problems or divorcees that are adjusting to conjugal dissolution. No services that offer counselling about coping as a single parent, or as a caregiver of aging parents or other problems of transitioning from a single individual into either a nuclear or extended family. The focus is only on reproductive control, despite the rhetoric in the ad about the NFPB being there to support stable Jamaican families.
So, let me now give some recommendations and not just end with critique:
- Either change the name of NFPB to reflect what it truly is (Jamaican Population Control Board) OR expand its mandate to truly support the viability and stability of the Jamaican family (or various types of families).
- Expand the vision from just the focus on sexual reproduction. The current vision reads "All Jamaicans achieving optimal sexual health in an environment where their sexual rights are respected, protected and fulfilled." Is the vision really about stable Jamaican families OR to support Jamaicans and their sexual choices, preferences and appetites? As such, the current vision and the name of the institution are not aligned.
- Advocate for policies and legislation that support and value Jamaicans caring for children and aged parents, as well as having healthy sex and controlling the timing of births.
Greenberg, J. (2014, Aug. 12). "Is having a kid a leading trigger for poverty?" PoliticoFact.com
Retrieved from http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/aug/12/moms-rising/having-kid-leading-trigger-poverty/
Jamaica National Family Planning Board (2016). "Vision & Mission" Jamaica National Family Planning Board. Retrieved from