With an emphasis on women, people with disabilities (PWD), and teenagers in hard-to-reach locations, Faith to Action Network and the Marsabit County administration in Kenya have expanded access to family planning and other health services.
Marsabit County is a melting pot of different cultures and religious backgrounds, and community members have low awareness and acceptance of modern family planning and health services. This prompted Faith to Action Network and the County Administration to co-create an intervention by identifying faith leaders––who are frequently viewed and respected as influencers by the community––to speak to the community members on the issue of child spacing. Together, they developed a plan outlining how they would use civic education and information sharing to combat false religious and cultural interpretations around family planning. For instance, there is a common assumption that growing one’s family will make one more fortunate. However, family size and the number of children adversely affects the amount of labor income needed to support small-scale subsistence farming.
Faith to Action Network has collaborated with faith leaders to improve the accessibility of family planning information and services through integrated outreach programs that serve as points of contact with the local community, organizations, and the healthcare system.
Faith leaders have managed to address myths, misconceptions, and the stigma surrounding family planning throughout the outreach endeavors by sharing religious texts that promote family planning. In order to gain support from the community members during these outreach efforts, the faith leaders talked about their experiences using family planning techniques. Reverend Baraza and his wife Janet gave their testimony to encourage couples who might be hesitant to use family planning methods:
“We have used family planning which has enabled us to space our three children with at least 2 and a half years spacing for each. Our lives have been positively affected by this…” (Reverend Geoffrey Baraza and his wife Janet)
Reverend Baraza and his wife Janet made the narratives around contemporary family planning more common. They have educated people on the advantages of spacing out children, refuting myths about the ill-effects of contraceptives, and addressing women’s confidence in child spacing. The project data highlighted the positive response to the outreach efforts with a visible rise in family planning method application and a decline in antenatal care defaulters. The availability of numerous health services in a single point of care has been a pull factor as well, especially considering that there were previously fewer centers providing this type of service.
The work that we have been carrying out has given way to a couple of lessons that we believe can be extrapolated to encourage marginalized communities to increase their uptake on family planning. We strongly make the argument that faith leaders can be a vehicle for driving persuasive civic education that seeks to harvest positive consensus around family planning.
Secondly, we urge the broader administrative health system to incorporate this lesson, thus ensuring a devolution approach regarding the provision of family planning services. We argue that communities need to be involved in conversations around their health and well-being and be given access to decentralized centers that respond to local contexts.