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.
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