Dr. Jessica Levy: Gender and Family Planning in Jordan, Speaker Series for 1/25

Professor Levy's discussed her research in the country of Jordan surrounding the implications of gender roles on family planning decisions.

On Friday, January 25, in McMillan Café, Dr. Jessica Levy presented on her work uncovering cultural attitudes towards family planning practices in the country of Jordan. The purposes of this study were to inform action for understanding modern contraceptive use in Jordan. The country stands as an incongruous case for having the single biggest correlate to increased use of contraception—high female education—yet also has low rates of contraception use. This oddity begs the question of whether Jordanians fully and freely have the choice of using modern contraception for family planning, with such choice in regards to personal, social, economic, educational, and legal restraints. This has been increasingly noticeable as the country endures economic stagnation, increased levels of Syrian refugees (which inevitably raise overall fertility rates), and a modernizing society. To understand this discrepancy, Dr. Levy and her research team used group model building as a tool to involve the Jordanian community in a facilitated discussion. This tool worked to find the linkages in Jordanian social systems, hopefully providing connected information on such “feedback loops” as support for family planning advocacy. By mapping the linkages between why and why not Jordanians don’t (or do) use contraception, action can be taken on multiple levels to effectively empower Jordanians with the choice of using family planning methods both when and how they do (or don’t) want to. 

Dr. Levy and her research assistants conducted a study with four focus groups of married and unmarried Jordanian men and women. With group model building, layers emerged surrounding decisions to use contraception. Reasonings to use contraception varied by marital status and, even more so, by gender. Married women cited a robust set of reasons for their feedback loops, including financial pressures, and unmarried women often referred to the quality of their relationship with their partners for their choices. Across both groups of women, the concept of “muthaqafa,” a term roughly translated to mean the quality of being cultured or worldly, was included in their systems thinking towards family planning. In contrast, both groups of men (married and unmarried) had little to no feedback loops behind their decision on contraception, and often referred to hypothetical scenarios or societal models instead of individual motivations. In other words, it became clear that the choice of whether or not to use modern contraception does not fit into the gender roles of Jordanian men, whereas it is integral to those of Jordanian women. 

The results of the study will be used to decide on best courses of action for promoting contraception use. These include: promoting partner communication; a focus on the younger generation, who are more receptive to modern contraception; valuing women’s roles in the workforce, and similarly men’s roles inside the home; increased education on modern contraception; and centering on the value of critical thinking, or thaqafah. Actual implementations and their results are certainly news that will be worth following.  

This study was funded by USAID. Participants were gathered by word-of-mouth networking and received no financial incentive to participate in the study. Apart from conducting research in Jordan, Dr. Levy is a senior lecturer of the Brown School and works on other projects as a senior reproductive health associate with the Iris Group, through which she facilitated this study.