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In Senegal, Imam Support Key to Success in Family Planning Policy

Birth control is a divisive issue across much of Africa - it challenges culture, religion and patriarchy. In Dakar, bringing religious leaders into the discussion has been an important step to overcoming resistance.

Senegal’s population of more than 14 million people is 94 percent Muslim. So when the time came to tackle the issue of birth control as a matter of public policy, health professionals were not the only ones brought into the discussion.

The Ministry of Health teamed with local health clinics and religious leaders to forge a new outreach on birth control.

Benefits of family planning

Gueye Coumba Seye, manager for social and maternity services at the Senegalese Association for Family Welfare, said the first step was to create a common understanding of the benefits of family planning.

She said religious leaders thought the message being sent was to not have children. So when it was explained that the message was not to “no longer have children,” but instead “space out births for health of the mother and for the health of the child,” things started to change.

Gueye said there is a pool of imams who agree with family planning, and these are the same leaders who are doing outreach to inform women, urging them to adopt a method of contraception.

Since the campaign was launched in 2011, focusing on the health imperatives of spacing births, infant mortality in Senegal has dropped to about two percent. Gueye credits such gains to imam support.

But one of the most essential components in the family planning equation is the husband. Especially in more traditional societies, where women have less autonomy, getting the men on board can prove more challenging.

Gueye said bringing the mosques into the effort to disseminate information about the accessibility of affordable contraception and the need for marital support made a difference.

She said some husbands are even coming along for the consultation.

“We didn't see this before,” she said. “For those that do not come with their husband, they have the approval of their husband. It is rare that women come without prior consent from their husband.”

Spacing child birth

Aida Ngom, a midwife at the Association for Family Welfare, said families are now seeing some other benefits of spacing their children.

She said spacing the birth of children gives parents the time to raise the child well, and spend time with her husband and child. She said women can also avoid abortion.

The use of contraception among married women in Senegal increased to 16 percent in 2013, up four percent in the two years since the campaign began. A World Health Organization report also calculates a six percent decrease in the maternal mortality rate over the same time.

With the collaborative efforts of faith leaders and increased conversations about health and safety, Ngom said, Senegal is building stronger families.