“I remember some time ago a lady beat her daughter the first time she had her period”

Midwife Dorothy Boyd-Brown, Jamaica

From their inception, cultural barriers and stigma have threatened the work of the Jamaica Family Planning Association (JFPA). Although some myths around family planning are still prevalent, according to one senior healthcare provider at the Beth Jacobs Clinic in St Ann,  there have been some positive shifts. Registered midwife Dorothy Boyd-Brown who first began working with the Association in 1973, said the organization has made its mark and reduced barriers and stigmatizing behavior towards family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Boyd-Brown, head of maternal and child-care/sexual and reproductive healthcare at the Beth Jacobs Clinic said cultural barriers were often seen in families lacking basic knowledge about sexual health.

“I remember some time ago a lady beat her daughter the first time she had her period as she believed the only way, she could see her period, is if a man had gone there [if the child was sexually active]. I had to send for her [mother] and have a session with both her and the child as to how a period works.

“She apologized to her daughter and said she was sorry. She never had the knowledge and she was happy for places like these where she could come and learn – both parent and child,” Boyd-Brown said.

Nurse Boyd-Brown and a client
Nurse Boyd-Brown and a client

Information sharing is important

She also highlights that religious groups once perpetuated stigma, so much so that women feared even walking near the FAMPLAN clinic.

“Churchwomen would hide and come, tell their husbands, partners or friend they are going to the doctor as they have a pain in their foot, which nuh guh suh [was not true]. Every minute you would see them looking to see if any church brother or sister came on the premises to see them as they would go back and tell the Minister because they don’t support family planning. But that was in the 90s,” Boyd Brown said.

Boyd-Brown says things have changed and the church participates in training sessions about family planning encouraging members to be informed about contraceptive care and their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

But despite the wealth of information and forward-thinking of the communities the Beth Jacobs Clinic serves, Boyd-Brown said there are some prevailing myths, which if left unaddressed threaten to repeal the work of the Association.

“Information sharing is important, and we try to have brochures on various STIs, and issues around sexual reproductive health and rights. But there are people who still believe ‘sex with a virgin cures’ HIV, plus there are myths around contraceptive use too. We encourage reading. Back in the 70s, 80s, 90s we had a good library where we encouraged people to read, get books, get brochures. That is not so much now,” Boyd-Brown said.

Boyd-Brown also faces the challenge of ensuring women continue to access healthcare.

“I saw a lady in the market who told me from the last day I did her pap smear she hasn’t done another one. That was five years ago. I had one recently - no pap smear for 14 years. I delivered her last child,” Boyd-Brown said.

Despite the challenge, she remains dedicated to the task and shares that her commitment also helps to improve women’s choices.

It is Boyd-Brown’s hopes that the once active Mobile Unit with community-based distributors will be reintegrated into JFPA’s healthcare delivery to be able to reach under-served communities. 

Boyd-Brown added, “JFPA has made its mark. It will never leave Jamaica or die.”