|This husband and wife are World Vision-trained community health workers in India who advocate birth spacing. They began using family planning when their son (right) was born.|
NOTE: This blog was originally published on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on April 3, 2012.
Religious leaders from a diversity of faiths—Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus—have come together to profess support for family planning access around the world. This multi-faith support for family planning is something we simply don’t hear enough about in the United States. But we should.
Last year in Kenya, an interfaith meeting led by Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH) of the U.S., Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung of Germany, and Muhammadiyah of Indonesia resulted in an “Interfaith Declaration” unanimously endorsed by well over 200 Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders.
The declaration expressed clear support for providing couples with the information and means to plan the timing and spacing of their children “consistent with their faith,” and called on others to support this initiative to influence government and donor policies and funding.
CCIH has been particularly active in reaching out to members of Congress who are not currently allies of family planning.
The truth is that FBOs have been providing health care and even family planning for decades. They provide anywhere from 30-70 percent of all health services in many African countries, and this is especially true in rural and remote areas where government services do not always reach.
What do faith-based organizations (FBOs) bring to family planning?
“The secular community can provide technology and services, but the religious community can get to the values behind who’s making the decisions, the power relationships in the family, and the dignity of women,” says Dr. W. Henry Mosley, professor emeritus in Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University.
The story of Paula, a woman struggling to feed six children in Uganda, is an example of how FBOs reach people with a focus on values. Paula had not been using family planning because she thought her religion frowned on it. Fearful of another pregnancy, she turned to Hope Clinic Lukuli, an interfaith clinic just outside of Kampala, where Anglican, Catholic, and Muslim staff members work together.
The clinic offers family planning services that include a range of methods—from condoms, injectables and pills, to CycleBeads® (a natural method). After receiving family planning support from the clinic, Paula was able to start her own small business, which allows her to take care of her children.
World Vision is a faith-based organization which operates programs that communicate the benefits of timing and spacing of pregnancies to people in poor communities around the world. World Vision has seen family planning win support from spiritual leaders, husbands who want healthy wives, and women whose health had been depleted from too many pregnancies, too quickly.
After World Vision introduced a program in the rural community of Hardoi in Uttar Pradesh, India, use of modern contraceptives increased to an estimated 77 percent in less than four years as compared to the overall rate of 44 percent in Uttar Pradesh. Evidence shows that when pregnancies are spaced by three years, fewer children are malnourished and mothers appear to be less stressed.
One mother of eight in Kanpur City slum in India told World Vision, “Family planning is great, but what took you so long to get here?”
We have plenty of data and anecdotes, globally, demonstrating the indisputable health benefits of family planning for women and their families. Now, we need to make sure that people everywhere understand the role faith-based organizations play in supporting and providing access to these life-saving family planning tools worldwide. Will you help spread the word?