Daily Video

March 9, 2011

In Guatemala, Religion and Tradition Conflict with Family Planning

The PBS NewsHour global health unit traveled to Guatemala recently to investigate the many obstacles to family planning in a strict traditional and religious society. In Latin America, fertility rates are the highest in Guatemala where it is common for women to have between 7 and 11 children between the ages of 11 and 40.

Organizations such as Women’s International Network for Guatemalan Solutions, called WINGS, are working in rural Mayan communities to educate women on the benefits of family planning methods. Family planning isn’t always a question of fewer pregnancies for women but rather better spaced childbirth is better for their health and their children.

The Obama administration wants to make family planning a top priority in global health funding and agencies like the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, is committed to investing in family planning methods because when fertility rates decrease the health and welfare of families and communities increase.

Guatemala is a male-dominated society and the men make the family planning decisions. According to Evelyn Roquel from WINGS, “These women here most do not have the support of their husbands. Many times, they come to me and say their husbands will accuse them of sleeping around and being prostitutes if they use birth control.” With over 40 percent of Guatemala’s population is younger than 15, family-planning advocates are now targeting youth to educate both genders on health family planning options.


“The culture and mind-set here makes birth control very difficult to discuss. It’s so embedded that the number of children is what God gives you; it’s out of your hand. So, for most women, this is a very new theme, which breaks with their traditional cultural values.” Evelyn Roquel, Women’s International Network for Guatemalan Solutions (through translator)

“Family planning has been underinvested in and is absolutely critical to the safety, security and stability of many of the countries we work in around the world. There’s so much data that shows us that as total fertility rates go down in countries, the health and welfare of children, families and, frankly, of the community overall goes up.” Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID

“Malnourished children have 12 points less of I.Q. than a normal child. We will have a great majority of the population with diminished mental capacities. That is a risk not only for economic development, health, et cetera, et cetera, but the viability of our democracy.” Andres Botran, former Guatemalan secretary of food security

Warm Up Questions

1.Name two countries that border Guatemala.

2.Discuss three family planning methods.

3.What is malnutrition?

Discussion Questions

1.Why do you think religion is so important in family planning choices in Guatemala?

2.Widespread malnutrition is stunting the physical and mental growth of Guatemalan youth. What do you think can be done to reverse these conditions?

3. Organizations are targeting Guatemalan youth to educate about family planning methods. Do you think this strategy will be effective in changing the mindsets of this younger generation? Why or why not?

Additional Resources

Video transcript

‘Epicenter of Violence’: Guatemala Combats Brutality Toward Women

Slide show: Life in Guatemala

Reporter’s Notebook: The Family Planning Frontier in Guatemala

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