By Meluse Kapatamoyo
“Women must have the power to choose how many and when to have children” stated David Cameron, the British Prime Minister at the recent summit on Family Planning held in London.
Cameron believes that preventing women from making that choice compromises their chance of a better life in the future.
He added that “fewer children increase chances for better healthcare and better education for children…we know this works because smaller families are healthier and wealthier.”
Cameron’s call came with Britain’s pledge to double its budgetary support for family planning to Africa and other poor nations elsewhere.
While Cameron’s statement may sound empowering to most women, there are still growing concerns that side-effects, costs, ease of use, access and communication between couples often hinder the success of family planning methods.
In most African communities, negotiating for sex and the use of any planning methods remains a man’s prerogative. Only he has the final choice on how many children the couple should have. A woman’s role, unfortunately, still remain, to ensure that his wishes are followed.
Although traditionally women undergo initiation ceremonies where they are taught everything from how to look after a man to how to sexually satisfy him in bed once in marriage, they are not given the voice to negotiate for sex or the use of contraceptives.
Kyapa, an ardent follower on my blog added her voice saying "I strongly feel our culture in Zambia has betrayed the women and sentenced them to silence....!! The tradition tells a woman that they should do what the man says always......in the line of sex it in fact teaches the woman to be so submissive ......as in that is their role to please the opposite sex.
I feel we should then direct our sensitization to these women especially in rural areas were once they reach puberty these teachings are embedded in them. Surely and truly may we all women learn."
Meeting the current need for modern contraception would reduce pregnancy-related deaths by 79,000 in the developing world. Most of this reduction – a drop of 48,000 maternal deaths – would take place in Sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest levels of maternal mortality and unmet need for modern contraception.
The good news for Zambian women is that government at the same summit also announced that it had doubled its budgetary allocation in a bid to reach the vulnerable majority who needed these critical services.
Dr Joseph Katema, Zambia’s minister of Community Development, Mother and Child said that funding from government will be complimented by additional contributions from donors' “Family planning and commitments to increase the contraceptive coverage for modern methods have gone up from 33 percent to 58 percent.”
In a statement released by Amos Chanda, press secretary at the Zambian embassy in London, government’s approach to achieving this will be broken into three categories; policy changes, significant increase of financial resources allocation to family planning and improving delivery.
Government further intends to dialogue with stake holders in order to reach the underserviced populations such as religious populations and traditional leaders, including its other departments in order to increase contraceptive coverage.
Melinda Gates, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the organisation plans to spend one billion dollars of aid money to help advance family planning services in poor countries especially among women and girls.
However, as government and various stakeholders continue to pump money to close gaps hindering family planning, there should be deliberate efforts made to communicate and ensure that women understand why it is important to have a say and control on how many children they should have.
An anonymous contributor wondered "why reproductive health is only taught in clinics and other counselling places. I suggest, churches, places of learning should all learn even at tender age. Imagine thinking its taboo talking about safe sex with your children and they get to learn from friends about unprotected sex, surely it doesn't pay."
"We have got to talk about it openly so that everyone can acquire this knowledge. My biggest problem is the NGOs who make all the noise but do very little in terms of educating men and women, the so called modest in rural areas."
"Their concentration has been on women when they are supposed to concentrate on men. We (men) need the data than our counterparts in skirts."
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin noted that “as our numbers keep growing past 7 billion, and so many (people) suffer from poverty, poor health and lack of opportunities, it is more important than ever to ensure that every child is wanted and that everyone has the power and the right to manage their own fertility.”
And a recent study Adding It up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services- Estimates for 2012 released in June 2012, by the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the number of women with an unmet need for modern contraception increased in sub-Saharan Africa, from 31 million in 2008 to 36 million in 2012.
About 80 million unintended pregnancies will occur in 2012 in the developing world as a result of contraceptive failure and non-use among women who do not want a pregnancy soon.
The unintended pregnancies will result in 30 million unplanned births, 40 million abortions and 10 million miscarriages, the report stated. PYM