During the last week of September, the Center for Middle East Studies at Brown University organized a conference on “Decolonization, Development and State Building in North Africa”. The panels were facilitated by Ph.D. researchers who are interested in the North African region.
The panel “Family Planning and Maghrebi Demography: between National Development and Transnational Collaboration” was facilitated by Amy Kallander, Associate Professor of Middle East History and affiliated faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University.
The panel focused on how lowering the birth rate has become the focus of North African governments. It discussed how larger families have started to be seen as a threat to the economic growth of countries such as Morocco and Tunisia, which has led to the inclusion of family planning in development plans. Demographic growth is also considered a cause of poverty in countries with a limited economy, further encouraging the promotion of family planning.
However, this introduction to family planning was considered an intervention in family life and exertion of control over the female body on behalf of the government. Many families didn’t cooperate with the change as they felt that their freedom was limited based on the economic level of the country.
To overcome this challenge, Morocco, for example, decided to include family planning in its medical system and training of new medical staff. As they started to raise awareness about birth control among women during their visits to the local hospitals, they also provided birth control supplies to ensure equitable access for all families.
Despite some resistance to family planning, Morocco is one of the leading countries in the MENA region in terms of contraceptive use, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Contraceptive use has rapidly increased among rural and urban women due to its accessibility. The World Bank showed that the percentage of Moroccan women using modern contraceptives reached 70.8% in 2017 and increased to 86.6% in 2019. These numbers are considered very promising as the median percentage of prevalence of any form of contraception was 36.7% according to the UN’s World Fertility and Family Planning Index.
In general, family planning is beneficial for each member of the family, as having a big gap between each delivery enables the mother to regain her health, spend more time and give all her focus to her newborn baby until they are more independent. Family planning also allows the mother to dedicate time for her own personal development.
The father also benefits from the advantages of family planning in a traditional, nuclear family, as it lightens the burden of providing financial support for his family because he has a smaller family. A planned family can also mean that the father will not have to give up his personal development and personal interests because he has to work all the time to provide for the basic needs of his family.
Children are also a beneficiary of family planning, as with fewer children in the family the focus and the care of the parents are not divided among many members of the family. As they fully experience the life and care of the parents, children also live a secure life while having enough attention from their parents.
IMAGINE Women’s Empowerment workshop organized by HAF
The High Atlas Foundation (HAF) is also raising awareness among women, especially in rural areas, through Women’s Empowerment workshops that are delivered regularly. As the topic of birth control is still considered taboo in many areas, HAF’s team drives conversations with women about their rights and goals and encourages them to get involved with their local cooperatives or even create their own.
These conversations help women to start planning their future while focusing on the goals that they want to achieve, which may be an indirect factor that might make the women of the area think about family planning, or at least they will be more knowledgeable about their rights which can make the conversation easier for the local doctors when they are introducing them to this idea.
In delivering these workshops, single and married women create an awareness circle that will later include their future daughters and granddaughters, an important investment that will continue to impact future generations to come.