Family planning, as defined by contemporary institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), refers to the range of techniques through which a couple decides the number of children to have, if any, and how to plan or schedule a woman’s pregnancies. American and European women’s reproductive health advocates—most famously the American activist Margaret Sanger—coined the phrase “family planning” in the 1930s to bring together the concerns of multiple constituencies, including Malthusians who feared the effects of population growth, and advocates of women’s reproductive freedom and health. As a global movement, “family planning” consists of networks of institutions, funds, and the dissemination of new kinds of contraceptive technology. The modern family planning movement, which links spatially broad demographic goals with women’s reproductive lives, emerged in Africa in the colonial era through the efforts of a range of actors, including missionaries, European colonial administrators, and medical professionals. Many of the early family planning clinics in Africa were voluntary dues-paying organizations. By the late 1960s, many family planning clinics were incorporated into a global network of IPPF affiliate branches and African government health systems, with support from international donor organizations, including the Pathfinder Fund, the Population Council, and USAID. Yet family planning in Africa is not simply the wholesale importation of a concept envisioned by Margaret Sanger in 1930s Brooklyn into African contexts. For one thing, as the historian Megan Vaughan has argued, “the family” is not a static or uniform concept, but has changed over time and across cultural and historical contexts, and as such, “family planning” does not unfold in a uniform way across the globe. Moreover, while international development organizations define family planning as having two goals—spacing and timing pregnancies, and limiting the number of children in a family—many Africans value the former and not the latter. As the anthropologist Caroline Bledsoe has demonstrated, many African women use biomedical contraception with the goal of having larger, rather than smaller, families. Understanding the history and meaning of “family planning” in Africa requires an awareness of a broader cultural, geographical, and historical context. We might ask certain questions in this regard: How have African communities conceptualized identities in relation to fertility and childbirth, and how do these intellectual traditions affect how African women use, or respond to, modern family planning initiatives? How has the history of colonial occupation shaped African responses to family planning initiatives? Why, in much of Africa, has the shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy not resulted in families desiring fewer children, as it has in other parts of the world? A history of the modern family planning movement in Africa must include both modern global histories of Africa’s relationship to the world through colonialism and capitalism, and longue durée histories of motherhood, health, and fertility in Africa.
While few journals are specifically dedicated to family planning in Africa—the African Journal of Reproductive Health being the main exception—there are a number of journals devoted to matters of family planning, population, and contraception that publish articles about Africa. Chief among these are Studies in Family Planning, Population and Development Review, Contraception, and International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Social Science & Medicine, a journal of social scientific scholarship on medicine, also regularly publishes articles about family planning. Moreover, a number of African studies journals publish articles that have to do with women’s issues, health, family planning, and related topics. The Journal of African History and International Journal of African Historical Studies are devoted to historical scholarship, while Africa and Africa Today emphasize more contemporary topics. There are numerous other African studies journals; listed here are just some of the more prominent examples.
This is an interdisciplinary journal devoted to the study of African societies and culture.
This multidisciplinary journal publishes articles on reproductive health in Africa.
Africa Today. 1954–.
This is an interdisciplinary journal devoted to the study of contemporary African societies, with an emphasis on economic, political, and social issues.
The is the official journal of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and the Society of Family Planning.
This is an important journal for African historical research.
This journal is published by the Guttmacher Institute and focuses on reproductive health and rights in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Journal of African History. 1960–.
This is the flagship journal of the discipline of African history.
Published by the Population Council, Population and Development Review publishes articles related to the theme of population, with particular attention to how it relates to environmental issues and economic development.
This interdisciplinary journal publishes articles relating to the social sciences, medicine, and health.
Published by the Population Council, Studies in Family Planning publishes articles dealing with family planning and matters of sexual reproductive health.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- African Socialism
- Africans in the Atlantic World
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Disease and African Society
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Farah, Nuruddin
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Hausa Language and Literature
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Obama and Kenya
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Popular Music
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- Spanish Colonial Rule
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey