Family planning remains an important debate

0601-2-1-FP-MDGSRoselyne Sachiti: Features Editor

Sometime in December 2016, Sekuru Tauzeni Mujaji (86), a traditional healer from Chipinge in Manicaland Province shared his story with the world, pleading for help as he could no longer afford to feed his 100 children and 10 wives.Accepting that he was not man enough to feed the hungry mouths he sired, the desperate man explained how life had become harder each day. In a desperate plea, he explained how the El Nino-induced drought had taken away his “macho man” status, reducing him to a beggar.

As if the El Nino-induced drought was not punishment enough, the number of clients seeking his services started going down and as a result he could no longer sustain his family.

Half of his 100 children, mostly girls, are out of school because of non-payment of fees. His uneducated wives now resort to begging along the Mutare-Chipinge highway.

The wives are all school drop-outs and as such have fewer opportunities and little access to any means of production and cannot financially provide for themselves and their children.

With more education, Sekuru Mujaji’s wives could have been able to control their lives and successfully bring down the number of their children as they would have more say in family planning, maternal health and child nutrition.

Yet in his case, all his wives do not take any contraception because of lack of education and also patriarchy. Studies have shown that in patriarchal societies, child-bearing is central to the survival of marriage.

While most couples understand that smaller and planned families are easy to manage, traditional views of child-bearing remain subconsciously deep-seated in many people’s psychic, Sekuru Mujaji’s included.

Because of these traditional beliefs, he has successfully persuaded his wives to shun family planning altogether.

Unfortunately, the consequences are too much for him to handle. His 10 wives have had countless unintended pregnancies. Some pregnancies have even taken place way beyond the safe child-bearing age for women, which is 35 years, resulting in complications at child birth.

Sekuru Mujaji’s oldest wife is 60 and the youngest one is 30, yet he still wishes to have more children. Unbeknown to him is that the difficulties his family faces could have been better had his wives taken contraception, and spaced their children, just like what many other women are doing.

According to the recently released Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey 2015, the unmet need for family planning among married women has decreased from 15 percent in 2010-11 to 10 percent in 2015.

If all married women with unmet need for family planning were to use a contraceptive method, the contraceptive prevalence rate in Zimbabwe would increase from 67 percent to 77 percent.

The report further states that knowledge of modern contraception is universal in the country: 99 percent of all women and 100 percent of all men report knowing at least one modern contraceptive method.

At least 77 percent of married women report use of family planning method, and 66 percent use a modern method. The most popular contraceptive method is the pill, being used by 41 percent of married women.

Modern family planning has its benefits as it allows young and professional women to space their children so that child bearing does not affect their professional responsibilities and ambitions.

Because women increasingly enter the professional ladder, it is imperative that child bearing may not interfere with professional responsibilities.

According to the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC), another benefit of modern family planning methods is that it safeguards older women who may not necessarily need children any more from conceiving at later stages in life, and, therefore, reducing maternal and infant mortality.

Modern family planning methods are often misconstrued and strewn with cultural and religious beliefs, creating barriers for their uptake.

As stated by ZNFPC, some of the most common myths and misconceptions include: It is not true that family planning is only meant to reduce the number of children per person

The main aim of family planning is not necessarily for reducing the number of children per person. Rather, it is meant for child spacing to guarantee the health of the mother and the child, especially at birth.

It also ensures that every birth is wanted. Because of health reasons and the social well-being of her family, individuals might not want to have many children. They should have the option to have children when they want to and when they are ready to.

It is not true that family planning is bad for women’s health

According to ZNFPC, this misconception arises from the observation that some women experience negative side effects when using some family planning methods. For example, the birth control pill may cause some women to gain weight, experience headaches, nausea, or have mood swings.

“However, these side effects do not occur to every woman. If one experiences negative side effects, they can ask to be changed to another option of available family planning methods. More information can be sought from a nearby clinic or hospital.”

ZNFPC further states that family planning is good for women’s health because it ensures that every pregnancy is wanted (thus reducing chances of abortions, especially unsafe abortions).

It also allows child spacing, and, therefore, decreases mortality rates. Without proper child spacing, chances increase that the mother or child might die at child birth or soon after. Some modern family planning methods such as the condom reduces sexually transmitted infections, including HIV infection. ZNFPC allays fears that family planning is a negative ploy to curb population growth, and reduce economic development.

In fact, family planning is a choice. There are scientifically researched methods for allowing optional child spacing to give married couples the choice and flexibility to have children at the time suitable to their financial, health and career conveniences.

“The objectives of family planning are not simply aimed at limiting the size of families, but rather to help them have children when they want to,” the ZNFPC notes.

“Even if people desire larger families, they should be informed about the health consequences related to unplanned and multiple childbearing.”

It is not true that family planning can cause women to become infertile.

“The argument that family planning contraceptives causes women to become infertile arises from the observation that after using family planning contraceptive for some time, women often don’t fall pregnant immediately when they need to,” ZNFPC further explains.

However, the short time lag (mostly 3 months and less) resulting in delayed conception happens as a result of hormonal re-adjustments as the human body flushes its system. This mostly clears immediately within three months or less and one can get pregnant again soon after. Some women do not experience these delays at all.

It is not true that family planning is culturally abominable, and is a religious apostasy. ZNFPC also says family planning does not reduce libido as only an insignificant number of women encounter this problem.

Other causes of reduction in libido may be marital instability and fear of contracting STIs or HIV. Rather, libido might actually increase when using family planning as couples feel more comfortable during sex knowing that they are protected. In the absence of family planning protection, the fear of falling pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV might actually reduce sex drive.

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