Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mungule women hatch new family plan for 'overbearing' hubbies

By Meluse Kapatamoyo

When couples get married, they become one, literally meaning all decisions and plans made are done jointly and in consultation with each other. But, when it comes to matters of family planning, the women of Mungule have no say. The men plan the family and choose the kind of birth control method to use disregarding the women.

There is a case of a young woman in Mungule who had three children within a space of five years. She bore her first child at age 16. Before she turned 18 she had her second and the third one came when she was celebrating her 21st birthday.

There are a lot other women who have similar situations of having that many unplanned children in the area.

During Alliance Zambia’s community dialogue at Mungule Rural Health Care, mothers aged between 17 and 43 testified that despite being the ones that carry the pregnancy, the decision of when to get pregnant was made by the husbands - many of whom unfortunately, have not embraced the different birth control methods available at health centres.

In areas like Mungule, the old belief that a man is defined by the number of children he has, still very much exists. Even when the man agrees to use condoms during the first few months after delivery, the rubber is put aside as soon as the child turns a year old. Thus many women find themselves pregnant soon after, as their spouses do not allow them to be on birth control.

One woman shared her that: “my husband demanded I get pregnant soon after my baby turned six months old. He said by the time I delivered, the child would be old enough to have a sibling. I insisted that we needed to wait until the baby was at least two years. He refused and threatened me with divorce. I got pregnant two months later and delivered my second child when my first born was 1 year 7 months.”

The consensus among the group was that given a choice, women would have preferred to have waited at least three years to allow for the proper growth of their children before getting pregnant again. They worried about their inability to provide their children with good nutrition and a good education.

Having realised the benefits of child spacing on the family, especially on the children, the women have taken a more aggressive approach to prevent further pregnancies.

They are now using different and discreet birth control methods without the knowledge of their spouses. Injectables, are quiet popular. Unlike contraceptive pills, the mothers say the possibility of the man finding out about the injections was zero.

One woman explained that for some who prefer contraceptive pills, they have devised interesting ways of ensuring that the tablets are well hidden from their husbands.

“I have dug a hole outside in the field. They are wrapped in a plastic bag just in case it rains. Sometimes it’s difficult to take the pill especially when he (husband) decides to stay home but most times I take them freely. I plan on telling him when the time is right. Maybe if he realises that I am not getting pregnant, he might accept that the six children we have are enough. Right now, we are struggling to feed, clothe and educate them,” she said.

And in Malupande Village, located about 4 kilometres from Mungule Rural Health Centre, the story was the same. The women, too, have had to find clever ways of keeping their husbands from finding out that they were using birth control.

They hide the contraceptive pills under rocks or with neighbours. Those afraid of being seen at the health centre, rely on a traditional herb called Nkankalamba, also popularly known as Kalulalula. The herb is soaked in water and the juice consumed soon after sexual intercourse.

While some women are willing to go to extremes to ensure they do not become pregnant, others have avoided using family planning methods because of the belief that they cause various tumours and diseases such as cancer. Others simply believe family planning methods as advocated at health centres do not work. Some of the mothers revealed having friends who got pregnant despite being on birth control.

But Isaac Phiri the facilitator of the dialogues from Bwafwano Integrated Services (BISO) advised the women to seek medical advice from trained health experts at clinics and also Neighbourhood Health Committees (NHCs).

He assured mothers that none of the family planning methods available at health centres caused tumours or different types of cancers as was the fear by some women.

Mr Phiri also warned the women against burying contraceptive pills in the ground as the temperature in the ground was likely to interfere with the effectiveness of the pill.

The community dialogue in Mungule was organised by the Alliance for Community Action on HIV and AIDS (Alliance Zambia), with support from Save the Children Sweden (SCS), under the project, “A Concern for All: Maternal and Child Health Interventions Towards 2015.” PYM


Mabvuto Zulu said...

This is a great initiative by the BISO and the other stakeholders. I wish it could be rolled out to all rural areas in the country as the rural women are usually starved of information.

Further, i think men should also be included in these talks so that they can appreciate the importance of family planning. Gone are the days when people were having many children, which they later failed to take care of. Thanks for such a beautifully written account.

Meluse Kapatamoyo said...

Thanks Mabvuto, actually BISO through Alliance Zambia, with support from Save the Children Sweden, have held sessions with men too. It's a shame i was not able to attend. BISO popularly known as Bwafwano to Chazanga residents is well known for its dedication to serving communities in areas of health and education.

Field Shachizanda said...

Thanks Meluse for this posting.This is my Village where i was born and started my grade one.I have witnessed some of the things you have mentioned and its really terrible.I have spoken to my uncle who lives just near the health centre to stop bearing children and the answer he gaves me is that ,God send them to fill the earth.This time he has twins + the six children he had earlier.
I agree with Mabvuto,Men should be part and parcel of the talks because they think they are the alpha and omega of the marriage decisons.
This a is good piece of work from you my dear and if indeed you can roll it to other deep rural areas,
But also the women in the village needs alot of eduction on the contraceptives.They shun the whole thing all together because they associate it with satanism and 666 the mark of the beast in the book of revelation.The doctrines of some of the churches that are dominate there preach about contraceptives in the negative and associate it with the mark of the beast.

Silvia Chimpampwe said...

Wow! Meluse this is some story! it's amazing to hear of rural women taking it upon themselves to protect their bodies and also their childrens well being! the various methods devised to start and stay on birth control methods are ingenious to say the least! As a native from that area I know of the kalulalula my granny used to give it to us for stomach problems and it's as bitter as hell! am intrigued to learn it's also used as an "emergency" birth control- our very own native "morning after pill"!

I however still think that such programs must begin to be increasingly extended to the menfolk as well in order to yield more meaningful results. The men need to be made aware of the dangers of concurrent pregnancies as well as the social and psychological effect on the children- not to mention the financial strain on the family too.

One hopes that eventually we will have a situation where our culture begins to embrace the notion of couples discussing and participating in child birth together- it just makes so much sense as this will foster healthier and happier families in the long run.

This has been a great read! keep them keeping!


Well researched and articulated article. Thanx, keep up us updated.

Sad story. Hiding medicine in rocks or under the ground is a sad story especially at this age. It is in the olden days when men were gauged by the number of kids. Others used kids and wives as farm labourer. Now the world has changed. Due to economical pressure, couples are restricting or streamlining the number of kids in order to properly take good care of them. Today, men have to proactively involved in deciding a suitable family planning method.

As a parent, i can safely say, an injection is the best. Married men love live sex because they are used to it. It is believed that a rubber or CD REDUCES pleasure. HIV is more prevalent among married people because of this notion.

Pills are quite tricky in that once you forget, they cycle is disturbed and one can fall pregnant. We have seen many of our elder brothers and sisters that were born within a space of one or two years. This was due to ignorance and poor timing.

On a light note, other family planning methods have been discovered among ourselves. These include; nightshift, tedious jobs that sends one asleep as soon as they get to bed or withdrawal method.

Anonymous said...

Insightful article Meluse.

Your article tell so much I didn't know about. It is easy to assume that things are good when in fact people are suffering. I hope we can see more of such issues in the media so that we start moving forward as a country!

As a Mungulean myself like Field above, it is disappointing that some men are giving our village such a bad name. So strange that in 2012, our mothers have to hide family planning medicine in the field. it is shameful that they have to rely on kalulalua.

Mr. Zulu is right, the men should be included in these talks. Additionally, we as a country should consider empowering women with the ability to express themselves starting form the home to schools etc. I tell you even when we involve the men as long as the woman does not have the power or choice it will amount to nothing.

Even as we address the issues of inequality, for me the big picture is that as long as our culture thrives on the notion that you had to do something to be a man then these problems will keep emerging. The idea that you have to have children and dominate your life partner still lives.

Thanks, keep it up.

Maanka Chipindi

Looking2BUnderstood said...

It's ironic that society views men with multiple kids as being viral and well off. However, the reality is that a lot of kids will keep you poor. Very rarely do you see the wealthy having a lot of kids.