Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Family Planning

It is difficult for Congolese women to imagine themselves without a man in their lives; culturally, a woman has little value if she is unmarried or barren. Regardless of what tragedy has befallen her, a sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) survivor continues to want a husband and be to respectable.

Unfortunately, men take advantage of these vulnerable women, promising to marry them, then disappearing when the woman gets pregnant. We had four new babies this year at Ushindi Center under just such circumstances—Moses, Vicky, Wema and Victoria—so I thought I’d better do something quickly before a whole soccer team named after me came into being!

Families in Congo tend to be large—8 to 10 children are normal, especially in rural areas where villagers are subsistence farmers and more children mean more hands to get chores done. The irony is that women survivors who were doing the culturally correct thing by having many children now find themselves living in the city where more children means high school fees each month, which they unfortunately cannot afford. So their children run the streets, the girls getting pregnant at young ages without the parental or community control of a small village.

So it is that Ushindi Center finds itself needing birth control for both its women members and their daughters. Several of the young girls have already had children, and they are now enrolled in our Girls with Babies group for teen-aged girls.

We called on the Association de Sante Familiale to put on a Family Planning Workshop, one part of their Projet de Planification Familiale, which supplies contraceptives through Confiance. This international NGO has a local office that has been presenting birth control information in workshop format for almost 10 years. They used humor, skits and education to explain why having many children handicaps everyone involved, especially the mother who is at risk of having a fistula or dying after the sixth child.

Julie, the leader, described in detail the variety of birth control methods available to both young and older women. She took time to explain how to use “pearls” with the rhythm method.
She did a wonderful job describing the consequences of many children-- on the mother, other children, and the family unit. A skit with two men posing as a rural couple spoke to the cultural norms that discourage birth control and encourage stair-step children.

The following day I happily wrote 10 prescriptions for Ushindi Center girls to local hospitals which provide free health examinations and minimally expensive birth control pills and devices.  The soccer team will have to wait . . . 

With love and gratitude,

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