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Why we need to start talking to men about Family Planning

As the Pakistani population crosses the 220 million mark, with the 6th largest population in the entire world, and clearly a huge lack of resources to cater to the growing population, family planning has been a government effort since the dictatorship of Gen. Ayub Khan. Population control has been a goal for the United Nations and the Pakistani Government and they have been putting increased efforts to allocate sufficient budgets for schemes to reduce the birth rate.

Since the issue with family planning in Pakistan starts at the very core- the conflict between the religious acceptability of using contraceptives and family planning- social awareness campaigns have targeted only this subject. To familiarize, demystify and open the Pakistani population to the idea of considering family planning solutions, as something aligning with Islam and the health of the mother and child several advertisements have been created. These are media products created with one clear goal- get Pakistanis to use contraceptives. They are meant to be relatable, speak about the subject clearly, but not breach the boundaries of immorality. The task is much harder than it seems.

I shall be giving a brief analysis of Family planning advertisements and campaigns as media products produced by both the government and NGOs. The aim here is to focus on who these advertisements aim to address, who they are actually addressing and whether they are addressing the correct party in the patriarchal subcontinent?

My main argument here is that to effectively impart information regarding family planning to the conservative Pakistani audience, a male should be centering the advertisement and directly addressing the audience. Currently, all advertisements feature women, narrating their stories and talking to a female audience. Yet the decision regarding the number and timing of children is taken according to a man’s convenience in a patriarchal structure. If not the man, it is the family of either side pressuring the couple to reproduce quickly- ‘jaldi se aik nawasa de do’. Realistically the woman is complying with their demands, not making any of her own.

Example 1: Mil Kar Faisla kia

"ghar ke har maamle mei hum aik doosre ki pasand ka khiyal rakhte hain, ‘hum ne mil kar faisla kia’"

While imparting an uplifting message on keeping your partner’s wishes in mind, especially when it comes to the gap between kids, it doesn’t explicitly state anything for the viewer to ‘not’ have kids, making it a religiously acceptable advertisement. That said, the narration is done by a woman. Even when they sit together with the health worker, the space is dominated by women and the man is merely a side character placed furthest from the camera. A man’s narration begins not from a character perspective but a reiteration of what the lady says and finally shares contact information.

Example 2: Achi Saas

This is an Indian advertisement where woman clearly doesn’t want more kids but the man does. The Saas explains that they shouldn’t and they need a gap between kids. While I love that it showed the mother-in-law shutting down her son’s obscure demands, it again missed the opportunity for the man to address the audience that would capture the male viewer’s attention. Perhaps a 10 second clip at the end of the man looking straight into the camera, reiterating the same message would do the job.

Example 3: Humko beta chahiye

Probably the saddest advertisement I came across imparting a truly powerful message about an issue that costs the lives of thousands of women every year- the need for a son. The narration is done by the eldest daughter, who takes care of her younger siblings and expresses remorse on her parents greed for a son. While this does make the audience emotionally charged, it fails to address the men. If this advertisement were done with the father narrating the story, apologizing to his daughter for the burden he has put on her and expressing regret for his demands, I this change would make the advertisement much more effective since a man would finally own up to his role in the importance of family planning.

Finally, I would like to say that addressing the woman about family planning is very important and we need to continue to make those advertisements too. However, given the urgency of the situation and the exponentially growing population, shifting the focus on the men is more important.

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