Clerics support family planning to promote maternal and infant health

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Dr Anicet Nzabonimpa, in charge of reproductive, maternal and child health at RBC, in a group photo with religious leaders. Elias Hakizimana.

Christian and Muslim leaders, along with government leaders, this week met to discuss ways to make reproductive health services more inclusive.

The discussion, which centered around eliminating practices that hinder access to family planning, was hosted by Oxfam-Rwanda in partnership with Rwanda Interfaith Council on Health (RICH) in Kigali.

Factors that hinder access to family planning include disapproval, religious concerns, fear for side-effects, and lack of access.

Onesphor Rwaje, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Rwanda and vice president of RICH, said that the meeting was convened to discuss ways to ensure successful family planning that respect the rights of women.

Traditional and modern forms of family planning are not necessarily at odds, he said, adding that Christians should not present them as contradictory practices or encourage one over the other.

Traditional methods include breast-feeding and abstinence while modern methods involve use of contraceptives.

“As churches, we focus on the rights of the woman by letting her be involved in using any of the family planning methods. Nobody else can decide for her,” he said. “We are sharing ideas to see how women can play a bigger role in family planning instead of (it being the) church’s decision.”

Women’s wishes are not necessarily ignored now, Rwaje said, “but it is important that men and women embrace gender equality to ensure Rwanda’s development as a country.”

“Gender equality should not be seen as a source of conflict between a wife and a husband; it is instead the complementary spirit that was set up by God,” he said. “This must be seen in working together, planning together and giving birth together with mutual consent.”

Biblical approach to family planning

Rwaje warned people who interpret family planning in a negative way. Even fulfilling a biblical mandate to have many children does not mean one should not practice family planning, he said.

Having a few children who grow to be healthy adults will have a better impact on the earth than having 10 children who do not have healthy living conditions.

“To fill the world is not giving birth to many children from one family alone,” he said. “It is multiplication that grows gradually from one generation to another.”

Dr Anicet Nzabonimpa, an expert in reproductive, maternal and child health at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), said family planning is not just the role of one partner, but rather should be used with consent between both partners.

“A woman has a great role in implementing family planning because she is the first beneficiary as it saves her life and allow her to work for the family,” said Nzabonimpa.

According to a 2015 report from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, 48 per cent of people aged 15–49 use modern family planning methods whereas the traditional method was still at 6 per cent.

Traditional family planning is practiced at about the same rate it was 10 years ago – between 6 and 7 per cent – while the modern one has increased from 10 per cent to 50 per cent, according to Nzabonimpa.

Speaking to Saturday Times, Sheikh Ismael Maniriho in charge of worship at the office of the Mufti of Rwanda, said Islam accepts that a mother can give birth to another baby after 30 months of breast-feeding as one way of controlling birth.

He also said that the traditional way of family planning is the most used by Muslims, adding that both methods are complementary.

Maniriho also said that a Muslim woman follows medical advice in using family planning. “Muslims accept modern family planning methods depending on the woman’s health status,” said Maniriho.

The Catholic Church last year toughened their stance against modern family planning methods and ordered their health facilities to stop offering such services.

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