‘Traditional, religious barriers hinder family planning’

Dr. Omasanjuwa Edun is the Team Leader for the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative, NURHI, Lagos State office. In this interview with APPOLONIA ADEYEMI, he highlights the obstacles hindering uptake of family planning and the way out

What are the barriers hindering the uptake of family planning and how do you convince people of reproductive age to adopt family planning?

Some of the barriers against family planning, FP are cultural barriers, which is basically why some people or some school of thoughts believe that our culture is against Family Planning.

This is especialy when we have some culture saying “God is the one that gives children and God is the one that takes.”

Hence, people in this group believe that we should not play God by using FP. At the same time, we also need to understand that part of our culture is bringing up responsible children. So, we should not confuse the number of children to the quality of children that we bring into the world.

In as much as we want to give birth to children, the real advice in Family planning is that we should be looking at bringing in children that we can take care of responsibly in such a way that when these children grow up, they are responsible enough to take care of us in future.

We have come to realize that some of the things we call culture are actually grounded. If you hear people saying, “You need to give birth to all of the children that God has destined you to give”.

So, you keep on having children as much as you can; but looking at it critically, we would understand that it doesn’t work anyway, because we cannot give birth to all the children in our womb.

You know that a woman has millions and millions of eggs and it is practically impossible to give birth to all the children, I mean all the eggs a woman has in her reproducing system. We know that these cultures are information that have been passed down from generation to generation, but you also understand that it might not necessarily be true.

What we always ask is: what value are these children going to bring to this family? Are we having children for the sake of having children?

Or are we having children that we are going to provide for including quality livelihood and wellbeing, in such a way that when these children grow up, they are responsible and they can take care of us in our old age?

Gone are the times when we needed a large family to cultivate our land.

We are now into a modern age where the numbers of children does not necessarily determine your strength; the number of children does not determine the wealth we have. In any case, you will find out that the more children you have, the higher the tendency of your potential to remain in poverty.

So, we have to realize that the time is changing and the environment in which we live in is also changing. We also have to change as individuals and our culture also has to change.

We ought to realize that culture is dynamic and culture changes, and we need to move with the times and realize that Family Planning is something that we need to embrace. if we look from an- other angle, the way technology is going , we will have a problem in our hands if the number of children we have do not find job in the future.

You will agree with me that technology is taking a lot of our jobs today.

If we go to the banking sector, people can’t find job, people are losing their job, because computer has come.

One of the factors making some people to reject FP commodities is many of its acclaimed side effects. What is your take on this?

There is no FP without side effects. Just like any other drug.

Even paracetamol has side effects, but then, what are the benefits of taking FP commodities? Let’s not forget that each of these side effects have ways that they can be managed.

For instance, what we advise people to do is, if you take up a method that is not suitable for you, you have the option of going back and when we assess it and find out that it is not good for you, we can change the method to the one that is most suitable for your body.

So, it’s not compulsory that you must stick to a particular method. We have drugs that we can use to manage the side effects.

So, after a while, it becomes normal and some side effects that consumers experience overtime will disappear on their own without having to take anything.

But the thing is, we need to educate women to expect these side effects which are not a threat to their life, but when it gets to a point where it becomes intolerable, then instead of having to complicate it with going to a somebody who is not trained, they should go back to the service provider that gave them the service in the first place or go to a trained service provider that is closest to them to report the case so they can be treated and addressed properly.

On the issue of Catholics which are advocating only for the natural method of FP to be used. Is anything wrong with that particular method which this church prefers?

Absolutely, no!. Family planning is about uniform choice and it is entirely voluntary.

So, as Catholics, give their members or congregation the option to choose what they as an individual decides is best for them.

They are not preaching against FP, but on the contrary, they are not giving members the ability to have power or the ability to choose whatever method they want.

They can promote a particular method which they believe is most efficient or effective, but limiting members to just that method without actually informing them that there are other methods is not really a good idea.

Every woman at one stage in her life should plan her family through whatever means they decide, whether natural, modern, whatever means they want to plan her family with.

It could be abstinence or any other method because in the absence of family planning, the consequences are grave.

How will you assess the performance of the government with regard to awareness on FP?

For Lagos state, the government is doing a lot to promote FP. In the few years that we have worked in Lagos State Government, they have done a lot in sensitising the communities, supporting outreaches and doing campaigns, especially during what they call the Maternal and Child health week when they promote the use of family planning.

S o m e – times they do “stand alone programmes” that talks about reproductive health, maternal health that also helps promote FP.

The Lagos State Government is doing a lot to ensure that the FP becomes a social norm in Lagos state.

What is NUHRI doing on religious front to make FP acceptable?

From the religious angle, it is still a struggle.

What we have done as a group as NURHI is what we have been able to to put together.This is what we call the “interface forum,” where we put together people, leaders from various religious camps from the Muslim religious camp and Christian religious camps as well from different denominations – the Pentecostal, the Catholics in a group and we take message of FP.

We advocate to them to encourage their congregation to support FP and we have gone a step ahead to developed a book called “The Christian Perspective on Reproductive Health and Family Planning.”

Religious leaders have an important influence over the lives of the people that they lead. So, by the time we are able to address the religious issues, we will see a remarkable increase in the number of people that adopt FP because the awareness in Lagos state is fantastic.

We have about 99 per cent of people who are aware of FP but still did not use it because they still do not know all of these limitations that we just listed.

If we are able to break these barriers especially the religious and traditional barriers, we will see that the uptake of FP will increase; we will see women living better lives.

We will see an improvement in the standard of living of women in the community and then we will definitely see a growth in our economy.

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