Faith to Action Network hosts luncheon discussion at ICFP: “Form … or content? How to constructively communicate with people of faith on family planning”

Faith leaders, donor agencies and scholars have used ICFP 2018 as a space to exchange their experiences and lessons in implementing family planning programmes. A luncheon discussion on how to constructively communicate with people of faith on family planning, drew participants from the Muslim Association of Malawi, the Office of the Grand Mufti of Comoros, Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health, Muslim Community of Benin, National Independent Church of Africa, Anglican Diocese of Mityana, Duke University and GIZ.

The discussion identified the following experiences:

Faith groups need to clarify their own approaches on family planning. In Nigeria, the Islamic Council and Christian perspectives on family planning have been clarified, and are disseminated to religious leaders. In Uganda, the Anglican diocese of Mityana, has a clear family planning position: “we need a healthy community and a healthy family, and family planning is essential to this. We see the Bible John 10:10 which cites life in abundance. Life in abundance requires education, and it requires avoiding the suffering associated with pregnancies. We speak out that the church must support the health of its adherents.”

While doing this, advocates need to be mindful that language does not become a barrier to understanding. The office of the Grand Mufti of Comoros says that “public health and demography language used becomes a barrier to understanding, even if the meaning is in agreement both religiously and scientifically. We have organized conferences on the islands on child marriage, teenage pregnancy and family planning”. The participant from Malawi agreed “scepticism and criticism that this is a Western agenda remain, even if the Quran strongly supports child spacing”.

Faith groups need to develop guides and briefs on family planning. The Muslim Association of Malawi has developed theological papers on family planning, targeting imams, women leaders and the adolescents. The mufti’s office in Rwanda shares this view: “We developed a guide called Christians and Muslims Promoting Maternal and Infant Health, which was approved by the Ministry of Health. After this book, we have conducted activities together. We consider that Islam is clear about family planning and child spacing, urging 24 months – to 3 years in between each child.” This is echoed by the Muslim Association of Benin: “We have developed a guide book inspired by the Bible, Koran and the local traditions and cultures. Providing a book based on religious scripture helps to convince and provides credibility when you are talking to religious leaders.” In Kenya, the National Independent Church of Africa has produced a book about well-being of children and the mother, which talks about the role of the mother and father and child rearing and family planning.

Faith groups support for family planning should go beyond awareness raising and engage in advocacy and service delivery. In 2017, the Anglican Diocese of Mityana has led the development of a district costed family planning implementation plan and has formed a technical working group to monitor the plan. The diocese ensures that its own facilities provide the full family planning method mix and it hosts a youth conference once a year to discuss reproductive health. The diocese’s representative says ”We also need religious leaders who are champions for family planning. I am a champion and happy to work with other religious leaders to see that we have a healthy nation. We ask religious leaders to sign a commitment paper indicating what they will do to support family planning.”

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