Posts Tagged ‘Ray Suarez PBS’

Archbishop of Guatemala on family planning and brutality against women

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Last week, I mentioned the two-part PBS television series on Guatemala, which focused on brutality against women and maternal health and family planning. The segments were hosted on March 7 and 8 by Ray Suarez, reporting from Guatemala, and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The PBS blog contains several interviews by Suarez that were not included on-air. One was with Guatemala’s Catholic Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales of Guatemala. The Catholic Church, along with Protestant churches, commands a position of influence and authority for many Guatemalans. I was pleased to read that the Archbishop acknowledges a need for family planning, including ”all the methods that within the family they decide is best for them.” The Archbishop also promotes the use of condoms to stop the spread of disease.  This is news not often reported. Here is the exchange between Suarez and the Archbishop:

RAY SUAREZ: When American officials look at Guatemala they see a country with the fastest growth rate in population in the entire hemisphere, and they see women who wouldn’t necessarily want to avoid having  children but would like to space them better.  Is there in the family context an acceptable reason for using birth control?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Our governments as well as other international institutions attack birth directly, but they never attack, or help us to educate people in a way which people start becoming conscious  of how many children they should have, because the church  is not opposed to family planning. It must exist and it must be compulsory in all facilities.

The problem is how or the methods that are used in this planning, like forcing families and many times sterilizing them for life. In regard to this matter  I think we should insist and the foreign governments should insist  not that much on family planning to have less children, but in that conscious planning in each family in a responsible manner.

Therefore, they should insist more on education, health, work that our families need so much in our Guatemala.

RAY SUAREZ: You say that the Church is not opposed to family planning. What methods would be ok, what methods would be approved and which are not?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: The method we approve is the one we all know as the Billings method, and all those methods that  within the family they decide is best for them. For example, the condom, many times it is an obligation for people to use it. And it is an obligation for people who have AIDS or any other disease.

In that case, it is not that this is a sin, but it is a sin not to do it, because other people are being harmed. In all this methods what must always be present is respect for the human being, for it not to be harmed. We do not accept any  methods which may harm the human being.

In another part of the interview, the Archbishop recognizes that any conversation about family planning or violence against Guatemala’s women must begin with Guatemala’s men. Without a change in attitude among men, no real and lasting change can begin to occur.

RAY SUAREZ: I ask about the Catholic church because there is also a great problem that is violence against women and girls, and in fighting them, can the Catholic church tell men, order them: stop beating their wives,  their mothers their sisters the women of this country?

JULIO VIAN MORALES: Yes, constantly, be it through the sermon or preparations| that we have in the parishes, we are insisting on this issue. Even more, in each church we have the so calledPastoral de la Mujer  [Women’s Pastoral] to help them on this matter.

In fact they are becoming more conscious of their own rights, by attending these groups that have been created. Now, not only do we help change the heart but the mind of us men who, many times  don’t know how to treat  women, because of that culture, in other countries they would call “machista” , and that certainly also exists here in our country.

A man is the first who has to attend this Pastoral de la Mujer, to know how to treat her and give her the place she really deserves.

As the PBS series illustrates, to live free from brutality and to control reproduction are two rights not possessed by all women in Guatemala. May this unfortunate reality change soon.


Here in Guatemala; and an article on the country’s “Family Planning Frontier”

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

We arrived in Guatemala late on Friday–my sister Patrice, Olivia, and I–and checked into (where else?) the Camino Real, the hotel where I met Olivia for the first time. Saturday morning we woke for a great breakfast, followed by a quick swim for Olivia and me, and then we were off to Antigua to catch the shuttle to Panajachel.

Right here I’ll pause for a commercial endorsement to recommend my friend and travel agent, Nancy Hoffman, founder of Guatemala Reservations, who made our arrangements. With Nancy’s help, everything was set up in advance, which I find essential when traveling in Guatemala, especially with children.

The shuttle ride, as always, was an adventure. People who travel to Guatemala are happy to be here, and we love sharing stories about where we’ve been and where we are headed. This past summer, heavy rains caused devastating landslides on the road to Panajachel and in surrounding areas. The damage has been cleared, although piled-up boulders and heavy machinery remain as evidence. We arrived in Pana with enough daylight to wander around for a few hours; afterwards, we settled on a chicken-and-french fries dinner at a restaurant we like. As we sat eating, a woman selling handicrafts approached us at our table. She introduced herself as the mother of eight children. On her back, in a sling, she carried her youngest baby, fifteen days old.

We’ll be in-country for a week, and I’ll write more about the trip, but this seems like the perfect opportunity to link to a great PBS NewsBlog by Ray Suarez, “Reporter’s Notebook: The Family Planning Frontier in Guatemala.” As our experience tonight demonstrates, family planning is a complex, layered subject in Guatemala, not easily summarized. But this article gives an excellent overview.  Suarez writes:

…After two years on the global health beat, I sometimes shake my head in wonder at how some of the most beautiful places on the planet can also be the hardest places to live.

Guatemala has one of the fastest population growth rates in the Western Hemisphere, about 2.4 percent a year. The population is pushing 14 million, and there is not enough arable land to support the rate of growth.

Our team from the NewsHour visited villages where it has long been common to have 8 to 10 children per family. Women made their way along rural roads or up hillside paths with one baby on their backs, a toddler in hand, and a four-year-old pulling up the rear.

Children are valued and loved here. At the same time, big families exact a tremendous toll. The maternal mortality rate – 240 deaths for every 100,000 live births, according to the World Health Organization– is the highest in Latin America. Malnutrition is epidemic. In highland indigenous communities the tiny stature of children and adults is not solely hereditary. The short supply of food guarantees for now that Guatemala will not see the gains in height and weight, or the children towering over parents, seen in newly prosperous places like South Korea and China.

However, encouraging families to reconsider what the optimal number of children might be is more complicated than a quick lesson in microeconomics. To enter into the Guatemalan dialogue on family planning means taking history, gender relations, and religion seriously, and requires consideration of how each shapes the debate.

Guatemala is a deeply religious country. Even those who are not active church-goers grow up surrounded by Christian worldviews. No longer monolithically Catholic, the country has seen the grown of a vibrant, elbows-out Evangelical presence, which accounts for at least a quarter of the population. The Catholic Church, with its profound, 500-year old roots, and the energetic, emotional worship and deep cultural conservatism, make Guatemala’s consideration of family planning a far different one from that of North America or Europe.

Abortion is viewed as a terrible sin. Birth control pills, intra-uterine devices and diaphragms are suspected of causing illnesses in the women who use them. Implanted, slow-release contraceptive chemicals are catching on, but they are expensive and provide only limited-duration protection. Condoms are unpopular among men, and discouraged by the Catholic Church, which only advocates natural methods for family planning.

Women often begin having children as teenagers in Guatemala, and continue with regular pregnancies into their 40s. At one mobile clinic I met a mother with eight children ranging in age from 28 years to 16 months. She said the last few births had taken an escalating toll on her body, and her husband agreed with her decision not to bear any more children.

Accompanying her that day at the clinic was her daughter-in-law with an 18-month-old. Both women had bandaged upper arms, where contraceptive implants were just inserted. The young mother wanted more children down the road, she explained, but thought it best to give her first child the best possible start in life by spacing her next pregnancy.


We were told across the week that the acceptance of men was a vital part of making this all work. Big families confer status on proud fathers. That sense of pride discourages birth control, but contraception also has a darker side in the relations between men and women: When women try to get men to agree to their use of birth control methods, the men often accuse them of infidelity or promiscuity.

We visited the grave of a woman who died at 43 giving birth to what would have been her ninth child. Accompanying us to the graveside was the dead woman’s oldest daughter, Concepcion, and her husband, Diego. The couple said the death of the family matriarch did not cause them to reconsider their rejection of artificial birth control.

Please read the entire article here.