The head of the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA), Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland today raised concerns that gains made in sexual and reproductive health could easily be rolled back given the tone of the recent debate on the island’s low birth rates.
Addressing the Women’s health Medical Conference at the 3W’s Oval of the University of the West Indies, Bynoe-Sutherland said Barbados has “entered the theatre of the absurd”, with everyone seeking five minutes of fame on what is a complex issue requiring strategic multi-sectoral responses.
“We are concerned that seeping into the discussion is a tendency to want to roll back important legislative gains in sexual and reproductive health that makes Barbados one of the most progressive places in the world for women to access services and human rights.
“BFPA is working closely with the Statistical Department to raise awareness of the population and development issue in a responsible way and to point out that family planning can be used to promote population increase, as it is principally about the ability of women and families to choose the timing and spacing of children,” she said.
Government Senator Dr David Durant recently suggested that married couples be paid to have children as one possible solution, while Roman Catholic Priest, Father Clement Paul, said the current problem is the result of successful family planning and abortion legislation. He also called on young people to place marriage and family at the top of the priorities.
“Almost every proposal seeks to place blame on women’s choices and we who facilitate them. Or, even more insidiously, these calls place the burden of population increase squarely on the shoulders of women, often not factoring that vulnerable women are often the ones having multiple births, further deepening the cycle of poverty that many find themselves in,” Bynoe-Sutherland told medical practitioners.
She referred to a 2012 Country Assessment of Living Conditions, which found that poverty is concentrated among households headed by women, which account for 47.5 per cent of all households.
“The rate of poverty in female-headed households is 19.4 per cent compared with 11.5 per cent in male-headed households, and 15 per cent in all households. Poor female-headed households also have higher numbers of dependents than other households.
“So in thinking about increasing births we have to factor the life cycle needs of children, and whereas the elderly, retirees and aging have powerful voices and lobbying, children and women’s concerns need more voices,” she stated.
The BFPA head also urged caution on the call for more pregnancies, as according to her, “it may fall on the wrong little ears”, in reference to Barbados’ high rate of teen pregnancies.
Bynoe-Sutherland stressed that the shift towards smaller families in Barbados and elsewhere was not only due to expanding access to contraception, but also access to education and a focus on improving the country’s economic development.
“Education has been found globally to be the greatest form of contraception, and when accompanied by socio-economic development, has widened the opportunities for women, with this room reflecting what happens when girls can fulfil their dreams to be doctors, nurses, therapists and the list can go on.”
She reiterated her call for the establishment of a high level Population Commission of experts and key stakeholders to develop a comprehensive population strategy for Barbados for at least 20 years.
The BFPA executive director further stated that the organisation is seeking to promote responsible population growth that does not infringe on the rights of women.