Beyond women's empowerment : exploring the role of men in family planning among the Mangkong ethnic group in Lao PDR : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of International Development, Massey University, Palmerston North, Manawatu, New Zealand
Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, men’s involvement in family planning (FP) has been actively promoted as the pinnacle to women’s empowerment, and consequently, gender equality. Previous studies have found that when men are involved in FP, they can become more supportive when decisions about reproductive issues need to be made, which has positive implications elsewhere.
Laos as an ethnically diverse country, means making FP universally accessible for its people has been challenging. It is especially problematic for ethnic minorities in rural areas where women are more vulnerable and marginalised, resulting in a high level of unmet need for FP among ethnic women. With ethnic minorities even less participation is evident, coupled with the fact there is a paucity of research on topic.
This thesis therefore aims to explore the involvement of Mangkong men in FP. The fieldwork was conducted in seven villages in Nong District, Savannakhet province, Lao PDR. The research is qualitative in design and data was collected via semi-structured interviews with 13 couples, two women and five key informants. Other methods included informal observation, used as part of building rapport and learning about gender roles and lifestyle among the Mangkong, as well as document analysis.
This study found that men’s involvement as FP service providers raised awareness of FP among men and women, while men’s involvement as targets of FP programmes improved and increased participation in counselling, integrated outreach, for example. However, this suggests that men’s involvement in FP alone cannot increase women’s empowerment unless broader strategic and practical gender needs are also addressed. Theoretically, the study calls for culturally specific models of empowerment, as the empowerment framework adopted in this study, which was based on Western feminist theories, cannot fully explain Mangkong women’s understandings of empowerment. Findings also suggest that if true empowerment in FP is to be achieved, it is necessary to focus on both men and women as individuals, couples and clients who have the rights to access FP information and services, thus meeting their individual needs. Both men and women are necessary agents of change for gender equality.