Marie Stopes, a leading provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare services, is conducting seminars to educate Islamic leaders, ‘Mullahs’, on the benefits of birth control. As an organisation that is committed to providing all the help one needs to make informed choices about one’s health, Marie Stopes has attempted to strongly emphasise on the message that ‘Babies are good, but not too many’.
Afghanistan has the second highest rate of maternal deaths, second only to Sierra Leone, with a maternal mortality of 8%, if not higher. WHO reports 536,000 maternal deaths, although child mortality rates have reduced in the last thirty years. Afghanistan is one country that is contributing to the bulk of this figure. On an average, a single woman bears six children and this places a heavy weight on a country that has an average per capita income of $700 a year.
Islam doesn’t negate birth control, however, they are strong believers of the thought that children are a gift of God, therefore the more the children, the more are the blessings.
In country where old traditions are difficult to change, some of these mullahs were paid to attend these seminars. And some others attended them simply because the trainer was a fellow Islamic leader. The sessions were conducted with the assistance of a doctor, and the messages were related to the Koran.
The simple messages given out at this seminar were that husbands should allow a gap of atleast two years before having the next child, allowing their wives’ bodies to recover from the previous pregnancy and birth. They were also told that breast-feeding is good and should be allowed for about twenty-one months. If spacing children takes hold, not only would the maternal mortality rate plummet, but the average family income would also rise.
Syed Masoom, a mullah and one of the trainers said, “Mullahs are the best place to start to instigate further change. This is an Islamic country and if the clerics support this, no one will oppose it.”
Marie Stopes is also working with women in Afghan to distribute birth control pills. Although this had a positive outcome with sales of birth control pills doubling from 6,000 packages in January to 11,000 in September, many women still choose to use these pills in secret in the houses headed by mullahs. However, after the recent seminar, some of the leaders emerged with a positive outlook and this should hopefully trigger further acceptance of this philosophy in this society.
Article by Snigdha Taduri for Biomed-ME