When ‘sinning’ becomes a virtue

Roselyn Sachiti Features Editor
MARIA (not real name), a member of the Johane Marange Apostolic Church, has a secret. The secret excites the 35-year-old so much and she now wants other women to know.

She has gone against her church beliefs and been taking contraception for the past five years.

Using the pill, which she hides in her small garden, a few metres from her home, Maria – a mother of six – says: “This is the best choice I have made in my life. I can now control my reproductive health.

“It’s hard to keep such a secret, my husband is not even aware that I have been taking contraception. He thinks it is God’s decision that we cannot have any more children.”

As much as she has faith in her church, she also believes in the power of the pill which she takes every time she goes to water the garden.

She says she will tell the nurse at their local clinic in Murambinda to give her a more discreet and modern contraceptive soon.

She fears her husband’s reaction if he finds out, but that is the least of her worries.

The church will be tougher on her. Such “sins” can lead to excommunication.

Before making her decision, life was hard.

Of her six children, only three that include a set of twins were in school.

The other three – two boys and a girl – aged seven, nine and 11 stayed at home, helping with chores as money for school fees was never enough.

Even with the Government and donor- funded Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM), the children were told they did not qualify as both their parents are alive and able-bodied.

If anything priority is given to orphans.

Her husband welds pots. The job does not bring much money – only US$16 per week.

Food was never adequate, mostly handouts from well-wishers. She could not do much work as she was pregnant and frail most of the time.

Today, her family fortunes haven’t changed that much, but she is happy that she has stalled her problem.

She at least has been feeding the same number of people for four years now and can now work in her small garden – uninterrupted by problem preg- nancies.

“Had I not taken up contraception, the number of my children could have risen to nine.

“My parents attended one of the apostolic sects which do not allow women to use contraception.

“My mother, too, did not use contraception and as such had 13 children. The three last children died before reaching five.

“My grandmother, great-grandmother and most of our relatives did not,” explains Maria.

Adds Maria, who is now informed: “The church will say I committed a sin, but it was for the best. Nothing beats the good feeling of deciding when to fall pregnant.”

On November 3, Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) released its second progress report detailing achievements since the landmark 2012 London Summit on Family Planning.

The report, “Partnership in Progress”, shows the initiative is making steady progress toward its goal of enabling an additional 120 million women and girls in the world’s 69 poorest countries with access to voluntary family planning information, services and supplies by 2020.

It includes the first set of quantitative results on several core indicators designed to track progress toward the FP2020 goal.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries that made pledges at the FP2020 London meeting.

The country committed to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate from 59 percent to 68 percent by 2020; to reduce unmet need for FP from 13percent to 6,5 percent by 2020; and to reduce adolescent girls’ unmet need for FP services from 16,9 percent to 8,5 percent by 2020.

According to the new “Partnership in Progress” report, Zimbabwe is in the right track.

The country added 71 000 new family planning users, and the use of modern contraceptives in the country helped avert 376 000 unintended pregnancies and 1 528 maternal deaths in 2013.

Zimbabwe is also one of few countries that has the most equitable distribution of contraceptive use across socioeconomic groups, meaning that more women and girls throughout the country have access to contraceptives regardless of wealth, the report revealed.

By investing in family planning, Zimbabwe is taking positive steps toward improving the health and well-being of girls and women.

Globally, expanded access to family planning helped avert 77 million unintended pregnancies, compared to 75 million in 2012; 125 000 maternal deaths, compared to 120 000 in 2012; and 24 million unsafe abortions, compared to 23 million in 2012.

“The commitments made at the London Summit on Family Planning are delivering real progress and it is important that the whole international community works to build on this success.

“Access to adequate family planning is vital for enabling women to have choice over their reproductive plans and control over their health and livelihood,” said Justine Greening, MP, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Development.

In 2013, donor governments provided US$1,3 billion for family planning programmes, nearly 20 percent more than in 2012.

The United States was the largest bilateral donor, providing US$585 million – almost half (45 percent) of total bilateral funding.

The United Kingdom was the second largest bilateral donor, providing US$305,2 million – 23 percent of all funding.

Additionally, partner countries are making and delivering on strong commitments to expand contraceptive access.

Five more developing countries -Benin, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Mauritania and Myanmar – made commitments to FP2020 in 2013, bringing the total number of states pledging to expand access to voluntary contraception to 29.

More commitments are expected to be announced before the end of the year. One half of commitment-making countries now have formal, detailed plans to guide their national family planning strategies.

“Countries are stepping up their commitments to provide girls and women with the information and tools they need to plan their families and their futures,” said Chris Elias, president of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and co-chair of FP2020’s Reference Group.

“We must use the data and lessons learned from the past two years to focus our efforts on high-impact interventions that unlock a virtuous cycle of prosperity for families and entire communities.”

The 2012 London Summit on Family Planning added momentum to decades of efforts already underway to provide access to modern contraception and reaffirm the right of all women and girls to decide freely and for themselves whether, when, or how many children they have.

Commitments made to FP2020 by developing country governments and the donor community are translating into real progress, highlighting the importance of mobilising resources and further strengthening the focus on adolescents and girls.

As the global community works to shape the post-2015 development agenda, the need to maintain and build upon FP2020’s first two years of achievements is crucial.

“Deciding about pregnancy should be by choice, not by chance,” said Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and co-chair of FP2020’s Reference Group.

“We welcome the contribution of FP2020 to ensuring that more women and girls have the information and means to realize this basic human right. Family planning is one of the best investments that we can make to boost women’s empowerment, gender equality, sustainable development and creating the future we want.”

Moving forward, FP2020 has shown commitment to accelerate global efforts to reach its ambitious goal of enabling an additional 120 million women and girls to access contraceptive information, services and supplies by 2020.

“Every effort is being expended to support more developing countries to create and implement national family planning strategies and to increase donor funding for this purpose. Continued commitment to expanding access to family planning can only result in further reductions to the unacceptably high and unnecessary loss of millions of women and girls’ lives from maternal related causes”, the report further explained.

Investing in family planning and reproductive health is also a cost-effective way to improve maternal and newborn health.

Family planning programmes yield improvements in other key development areas such as education, water and sanitation.

Analysis from the Guttmacher Institute demonstrates that fully funding maternal and newborn health and meeting unmet need for family planning would result in a net savings of US$1,6 billion, as compared to investing in maternal and newborn health alone.

In other words, investments in family planning services reduce the overall costs of maternal and newborn healthcare, and save lives.

There is a large and growing need for family planning in many developing nations.

Population Action International says an estimated 222 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but do not have access to or information about family planning services.

It is estimated that the total cost of fulfilling global need for family planning would be US$8.1 billion.

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