Right By Her is run by eight partners, all of whom contribute to the project in different ways. One of our partners is the Faith to Action Network whose mission is to support faith actors to empower people to live healthy, peaceful, quality lives. This includes working to ensure that family planning information is accessible to women, and men are supportive of this.
Even though women’s right to health, including sexuality and reproductive health, is at the heart of Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol, signed by 51 governments in Africa 15 years ago, access to family planning is not consistent across the continent. The State of African Women report highlights a number of reasons for this inconsistency, including geographical barriers, high costs and the fact that often, policies restrict family planning services to married women. The proportion of women using a method of contraception is much lower for Africa than for other parts of the world, at 33% (see table and map below), which highlights how important the work that members of Faith to Action Network, including the Evangelical Alliance of Malawi (EAM), are doing in this area.
The story of Cecilia and Kinwerd Msandivute, from Chipokosa Village of traditional Authority Kalumo, shows the many positive outcomes of family planning support. Married in 2007, when Cecilia was 16 and Kinwerd was 18, they gave birth to Ruth within one year of their marriage. In the midst of breastfeeding and caring for her new child, Cecilia became pregnant when Ruth was only 15 months old. At that time the couple were simply not ready mentally or financially. By his own admission, Kinwerd was overwhelmed and was staying out late drinking as a means of coping, leaving Cecilia to care for Ruth, and their home, while also dealing with pregnancy. They struggled financially and their relationship broke down. Things only got worse for the pair when their second child died, which both Cecilia and Kinwerd were sure was to do with the emotional and economic pressures they were under.
Life only improved for the couple, when she was visited by the Evangelical Association of Malawi, who have a Door to Door Counsellors service that focuses on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Family Planning. After some encouragement, the couple went to Ntchisi District Hospital, obtained an injectable contraceptive, and used it for two years. The couple’s third baby came in 2013, and soon after, Cecilia and Kinwerd went back to a three-year contraception. In 2017, Cecilia became pregnant again and delivered the couple’s fourth baby. Now, Cecilia and Kinwerd have chosen a longer term Implant Family Planning method.
Cecilia and Kinwerd and the three children are living securely and happily, having moved from a mud hut to a brick house, where they grow vegetables and plants in their garden. Their relationship has never been better, with Cecilia saying:
“When people see us today they ask me what kind of juju (traditional love concoction) did you give your husband as our family has moved from the verge of breaking which was very visible to people in and outside our community.”
They both attribute a lot of this to the control they were able to take over their lives with the assistance of family planning. The ability to choose when to have children means they can plan together for every child and ensure that they are financially and emotionally ready for it. Family Planning has improved communication within their marriage and made the relationship more like a partnership. Cecilia even puts her youthful looks down to the fact she has fewer children than most of her peers:
“Many of my age mates in this village look older than me just because they have a lot of children, have frequent births and failing to take good care of themselves as well as their children”.
It is easy for people in the West to take access to contraception for granted, but it is important to remember the transformative power it has, as it is an enabler of life and career choices. It is to ensure that ordinary people, like Cecilia and Kinwerd, have this objectivity that Faith to Action Network and Right By Her are working to ensure that the promises made in the Maputo Protocol are made real by the 51 governments that signed the agreement.