Legislators under the Parliamentarian’s Network for Population and Development (RPRPD) are seeking to uplift living conditions in Rwanda by promoting access to reproductive health and family planning services.
Targeting to work with opinion leaders in communities around the country and policymakers in government, the MPs under their ten-year-old RPRPD revealed their five-year strategic plan on Friday.
Activities in this plan are mainly about capacity building for leaders, starting with the legislators themselves and then moving to helping local officials and school leaders. The plan will also involve pushing for policy changes at national level to allow more accessible reproductive health and family planning services.
For their activities over five years from 2013 to 2018, the legislators have planned to spend $1.1million (about Rwf 757 million).
Strengthening responsible family planning programmes and increasing uptake of contraceptive methods and universal access to health are seen as important factors in the realisation of the country’s second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2).
For RPRPD president, Senator Gallican Niyongana, legislators would like to take significant time off their daily work in Parliament to spend more time with communities to help change people’s attitudes towards family planning and reproductive health.
“We need to understand the consequences posed by demographic explosion. Poverty, unemployment, and a whole lot of other problems are associated with a population growth that is not proportionate with economic growth,” he said in an interview on Friday after kick-starting the group’s two-day general assembly and training at Parliament Hills in Kimihurura, Kigali.
The senator said the major challenge to the success of family planning and reproductive health programmes is the mentality of many Rwandans who still shy away from using contraceptive methods and end up with more children than they can look after.
“For real change to happen, mentality change need to trickle down. The important thing is for everyone to understand that they have to contribute in bringing that change,” Niyongana said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), reproductive health implies that “people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so”.
The organisation says that men and women have “the right to be informed of and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation of their choice, and the right of access to appropriate health care services that will enable women to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant”.
For the trend in the use of modern family planning methods among married women, the national census of 2012 in Rwanda showed that contraceptive prevalence increased from 10% in 1990 to 45% in 2012.
The census showed that women in rural areas in the country have 4.8 children on average, compared with 3.4 children on average per woman in urban areas.
Jozef Maerien, the country representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), told The New Times in an interview that access to contraceptives is still the biggest challenge to many families in Rwanda.
The expert said that it was clear from surveys that 19% of women in Rwanda would want to have fewer children than they have now but they don’t because of limited access to contraceptives.
“Access is still a challenge to the methods of family planning. Rwanda has made a lot of progress in this area but we still see unmet needs. That’s an indicator of some limit to access; whether at the level of services, issues like the distance to a health centre, or some cultural things. Access is still an issue but it’s a complicated issue,” he said.
Experts say that rapid population growth remains one of the main challenges for Rwanda because the country’s land is considered too small for its population that is mainly made up of lowly educated farmers with no qualifications to engage in non-agricultural jobs.