World Vasectomy Day: Addressing masculinity in family planning
Guest column from filmmaker Jonathan Stack
In 2012, filmmaker Jonathan Stack and vasectomist Dr. Doug Stein co-founded World Vasectomy Day. On November 12-16, 2018, WVD celebrates its sixth anniversary with over 1,200 physicians in 50+ countries doing upwards of 20,000 procedures. Allied, supported or in partnership with many of FP’s leading organizations, and guided by it 35-member advisory board, WVD is now the largest male-oriented family planning event in history.
While making a film about my own complex journey through fatherhood, I met Dr. Doug Stein. His monthly vasectomy trips throughout Florida and his vasectomy missions around the world inspired me to launch World Vasectomy Day, as well as to become his 25,000th client.
I’ve made many films about angry, alienated and frustrated men who, lacking positive ways to express their innate power and potential, inflict brutality on society’s most vulnerable. In contrast, on the day men make a conscious choice to exit the gene pool, regardless of class, color or creed, they reveal a unique thoughtfulness and vulnerability.
In 2012, I met Kenyan George Mbogah who had traveled for 24 hours to get his vasectomy. He said his wife had almost died giving birth and this was how he could best show his love. That night, I reserved http://www.worldvasectomyday.com and challenged myself to inspire 100 doctors from 10 countries to do 1,000 vasectomies within a year. Doug suggested it happen on a Friday. Men like weekends to recover.
I soon realized that a family planning movement focused on vasectomy is not easy. There are countries, like Canada, where more than 25% of men choose vasectomies, but there are many others where acceptance is less than 1%. Initially, there was little funding, a lot of skepticism and an assumption that men, and their partners, would never accept vasectomy.
We quickly encountered the commonly held misconception that a vasectomy makes men less manly. And, it’s not just men; women have expressed concern that a vasectomy changes a man’s status from alpha to alpha-lite. WVD emphasizes that manhood is not determined by how many children you create, but how much love you give the ones you have.
Over the years, we’ve publicized many of the compelling reasons to choose vasectomy – including that it is less invasive, less expensive and less painful than a tubectomy. Or that while male and female sterilization each have a failure rate of about 1%, failure with a vasectomy results in a normal pregnancy while tubal failures can lead to ectopic pregnancies, a leading cause of maternal mortality. Or that overcoming poverty is harder to accomplish with large families and challenging for countries trying to develop self-sustaining economies. Or simply that male choice is personal empowerment.
Our first official slogan—‘balls on the line’ for Mother Earth—emphasized the ecological importance of family planning, but population is a complex issue that requires an extremely nuanced conversation and as Doug pointed out, a vasectomy has little to do with the balls themselves. Not to mention, it was embarrassing wearing the t-shirt in public.
Rhetoric aside; it turns out the simplest approach – the truth – is the most compelling. In bringing our campaign to Haiti, Kenya, Indonesia, the US, Australia, Colombia, the Philippines, India, Mexico and Rwanda, we discovered that there are growing numbers of men everywhere who want to limit their family size and believe it is in their, and their loved one’s, interest to actively participate. These men care not only about their families, but also their communities, their countries and our future. We have seen that a movement grounded in hope and possibility attracts positive humanity and it succeeds, not by reaching everyone, but by aggregating those who are already seeking collective purpose.
The outcomes are tangible. IPPF Bali refurbished their mobile buses to do rural outreach, more Planned Parenthood clinics offer vasectomies, India has adopted World Vasectomy Day and expanded it into an annual fortnight, WVD trained 3 Profamil doctors in Haiti and did over 100 vasectomies – seven times more than the entire previous year, Mexico has seen a 40% growth in uptake in the past two years and DKT Mexico is doing vasectomies in their mobile unit. We trended on Twitter in Kenya for 13-straight hours, and created over 200 million on line impressions in the past 2 years alone.
For all the effort to inspire men, it wasn’t until we empowered the providers that our movement took off. These champions form the backbone of our movement. Lessons learned in aggregating and supporting doctors with interactive technology as well as building participatory communities is worth exploring for other public health interventions.
From November 12-16, with a base at the ICFP in Kigali but with our network of thousands of providers in dozens of countries, more then 20,000 men are likely to choose a vasectomy as their preferred family planning option. And while we are proud of the men who rise up to take this decision, WVD does not measure its success only by numbers done, but by the quality of the conversations we help launch.
What was once a small group of impassioned men and women has evolved into a global movement that expands beyond a single day. Our story, born of hope and possibility, using ICT and storytelling to aggregate individual acts of kindness and love into a collective effort for social good. We are honored to be part of the family planning community and committed to supporting the efforts of our colleagues.
Long Live World Vasectomy Day! Long Live the International Conference on Family Planning.