The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 (Volume 4: Issue: 39)

The Topic: Colonialism That’s Still OK

The News Story: The Best Way to End Poverty Is To Start With Birth Control

The New Research: Mothers Wanting Too Many Babies in the Gambia

 

The News Story: Eliminating Poverty by Preventing People?

“Melinda Gates is a tireless advocate for the advancement of women and girls,” opens Susan Rinkunas at New York Magazine’s blog, “The Cut.” Gates’ international initiative “Family Planning 2020” is rooted in Gates’ “tireless” advocacy. Its mission? “[T]o provide modern contraception to 120 million more women in developing countries not only so they can decide how many children they have and prevent unsafe abortions, but also so they can stay in school and enter the workforce.”

Gates recently told the New York Times that birth control is the most effective way to end poverty “at the individual level.” “If you allow a woman—if you counsel her so it’s truly voluntary—to have a contraceptive tool and she can space those births, it unlocks the cycle of poverty for her.” “All over Africa,” Gates continues, “young girls getting pregnant early when they don’t want to keeps them out of school. So you’d keep more girls in school, and then you’d have educated girls who would go into the work force.”

But research reveals that it may take far more than “counseling” to convince some women in developing countries that having more babies is a nuisance to be avoided rather than a blessing to be embraced.

(Source: Susan Rinkunas, “The Best Way to End Poverty Is to Start With Birth Control,” New York Magazine, November 1, 2016.)

 

The New Research: Mothers Wanting Too Many Babies in the Gambia 

As champions of the feminist cause, progressives tirelessly insist that they want to expand the range of choice open to women around the globe. But a new study out of the Gambia in West Africa manifests more than a little progressive discomfort with one kind of female choice: that of bearing and rearing a large family.

Conducted by researchers at the University of The Gambia, this new study focuses on “grand multiparity,” the obstetric phenomenon manifest when a woman has “carried five or more pregnancies to the age of viability.” The Gambian researchers note that “grand multiparity is still quite common in The Gambia,” where the Total Fertility Rate stands at 5.6 births per woman. The researchers are studying a phenomenon they regard as a problem. “High parity,” the authors of the new study remark, “is . . . still a common problem in obstetric practice in many developing countries [such as the Gambia].”

To better understand the persistence of grand multiparity in their country, the Gambian scholars examine data collected from 514 mothers visiting Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (the Gambia’s only tertiary health facility) for prenatal care. Of these 514 mothers, 136 (26.5%) were grand multiparous mothers expecting a fifth or subsequent child. When the researcher asked them why they were pregnant with this child, these mothers most commonly replied that they simply wanted more children. As the researchers report, “The most common reason given for the current pregnancy among the grand multiparous was a desire for more children.” What is more, these mothers are not having large families in ignorance of contraceptive options. The researchers conclude that “97.1 % of [their] study participants were aware of the availability of contraception. In fact, 56.6 % of these mothers had been counseled regarding availability, accessibility and various options available for contraception in the hospital before discharge in their previous pregnancy. Therefore, inability to use contraception to prevent the occurrence of [the latest] pregnancy was not due to lack of contraception or accessibility.”  

The Gambian researchers recognize the imprudence of openly impugning the desires of Gambian women who say they wanted their latest pregnancy. But in identifying “high parity” as itself a problem, they unmistakably indicate that these women are also targets in their plans to spread the contraceptive mindset.  Even though the number-one reason that Gambian women become grand multiparous mothers is simply that they want many children—regardless of the availability of contraceptives—the Gambian researchers see in the high number of such mothers an indicator “of low literacy, poverty and other forms of injustice and inequity faced by women in the developing world.” No wonder, then, that they envision a nationwide cultural change that will reduce the number of such mothers by sharply increasing contraceptive use. To effect that change in “a religious country” like Gambia, one of “patriarchal nature,” they believe that advocates of contraception “need to develop family planning messages that specifically target men and religious leaders” in order to “get women to practice contraception.”

In their repeated use of the verb target, the authors reveal much about their aggressive cultural intent. A verb that may carry unpleasant connotations for West Africans, target typically means aligning a weapon for firing against foe or prey—often with lethal effect. Just as soldiers from imperial powers once targeted Africa’s native tribesmen and big-game hunters on safari once targeted the continent’s lions and rhinos, the advocates of contraception now have targeted a Gambian society that they find unacceptably different from the contraceptive-friendly, low-fertility societies of Europe and North America. To the degree that these crusaders for contraception do discharge their cultural weapon, Gambian society as it now exists will live no more—and many of the baby Gambians who might have been born will never see the light of day.  These crusaders may then congratulate themselves on having solved the problem of large Gambian families. 

(Source: Bryce Christensen and Nicole King, forthcoming in “New Research,” The Natural Family. Study: : Patrick Idoko, Glenda Nkeng, and Matthew Anyawu, “Reasons for Current Pregnancy amongst Grand Multiparous Gambian Women—A Cross-Sectional Survey,” BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 16 [2016]: 217.  Web)