Family Planning: The Benefitsby Nicola on 2013-07-02
Family Planning: Relevance to Inuit
By Dr Nicola Davies
Family planning is a way in which a husband and wife can gain control over the number of children they have, and to be able to choose the best time for those children to be born. The family planning process is particularly vital for Inuit communities, who are transitioning from a traditional way of living to a modern Western way of living. Indeed, family planning can bring a number of important benefits to such communities.
In the middle part of the 20th Century Inuit were undergoing a major change in their living conditions, with an increasing focus by Western governments on integrating Inuit into a modern economic model. This involved many changes to the traditional Inuit way of life.
One of the things which changed was that Inuit were strongly encouraged to move into Western style housing in planned communities, often a long way from traditional hunting grounds. In other words, Inuit were integrated into the Western economic model, and expected to get jobs and work for wages, which previously had not been common.
These changes brought about a decline in the strong community bonds which had held together traditional Inuit communities, leading to social problems. One of these problems was overcrowding, a result of the Inuit's large, traditional families being crowded into small modern houses. Furthermore, because Inuit were not accustomed to the way a Western economy worked, not all of them were able to find jobs and earn the money required for larger houses.
Rapid Population growth
Another set of changes in Inuit society related to a rapidly growing population. Between 1941 and 1971, the death rate among Inuit fell from 25.6 people per thousand per year, to just 6.6 per thousand (Billson and Mancini, 2007). However, the birth rate did not fall. With far fewer deaths and a lot of births, the Inuit population rose very fast, growing at an annual rate of over 4% from the 1960's onward.
Problems arising from rapid population growth
The poverty and poor housing Inuit experienced in these new Western style communities were made worse by the rapid population growth, which was many times higher than the other peoples living in Western countries. Over 50% of the Inuit population are now under the age of 25, with the result that there is greater pressure on the few available jobs, and on the schooling, health care and employment opportunities available in Inuit communities (Pauktuutit, 2013). As many of these communities are already disadvantaged, and often rather remote, the limited healthcare available locally cannot provide for large numbers of young people. It is also especially difficult for the young to find work. This results in high levels of unemployment, leading to drink and drug abuse and other social problems.
High birth rates: Consequences for families
By increasing the number of people in families, a rapidly growing population puts more pressure on parents, who have to provide for their children. It also leads to greater overcrowding in the limited and often poor quality housing available.
A high birth rate also has important consequences for the health of the mother. Repeated pregnancies put a strain on the mother's body, and can bring a risk of illness. Indeed, there is always an element of risk involved in pregnancy and childbirth. The more pregnancies a woman has to cope with, especially when these pregnancies are close together, the greater the danger of something going wrong.
How these risks and problems can be avoided
The problems associated with repeated pregnancies and families that are too large can be solved by using family planning services. Family planning lets a woman decide how many children she wants to have, and the best time to have them. This is done using contraception, which allows a woman to regulate her fertility. Help with family planning is readily available at Health Centers, and Planned Parenthood officers are able to provide advice, information and birth control supplies.
Family Planning in Inuit societies
The idea of Inuit women making choices about when to have their babies is not new. In the past, Grandmothers knew how to use herbal medicines, and from this knowledge women were able to avoid becoming pregnant in difficult times or when travelling to difficult places. Today, although some Inuit believe that pregnancy should be left in the hands of the Creator, many other Inuit want to be able to choose for themselves whether it is a wise time to have a baby.
Sometimes young people feel that it is wiser to wait until they have a suitable house, a stable relationship, or a secure income, before taking on the responsibility of having to care for and provide for a child. Family planning allows them to have a full relationship, without being forced to have their babies before they are ready.
Accessing family planning help and advice for younger people or those in remote communities
In many Inuit communities it is easy to find the advice and birth control supplies needed for successful family planning. However, for those who live in small, isolated communities, it is sometimes hard to find people they can talk openly to about family planning. The young, in particular, may fear that their parents or doctors will not approve. Even adults in some communities may feel that the local health care workers are not happy about helping with birth control.
There are organizations that offer information especially for Inuit women who want to gain control over their fertility. Pauktuutit is an organization that represents the needs of Inuit women, and which helps to address their concerns and problems. Since Pauktuutit was created in 1984 it has focused on many health related issues, including family planning.
Inuit communities have seen large increases in their population since the 1960's, as a result of falling death rates which have not been matched by similarly falling birth rates. This population growth has put a strain on Inuit communities and families, who have to provide for their children with only limited money and resources. Repeated pregnancy also puts a strain on childbearing women, and can represent a risk to their health.
Family planning allows women and their partners to choose when to have children, and how many children to have. Family planning advice and help are available from health centers, and from bodies such as Pauktuutit.
Photo courtesy of David Ho.
Dr Nicola Davies is a Psychology Consultant and Freelance Writer with an interest in health and well-being. Her publications can be viewed at www.healthpsychologyconsultancy.com. Alternatively, you might like to sign up to her free blog: http://healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com/
Billson, J.M. and Mancini, K. (2007). Inuit Women: Their Powerful Spirit in a Century of Change. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Pauktuutit (2013). Health. http://pauktuutit.ca/health/ [Last accessed 2nd July 2013].