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“If your parents used family planning you would not be here,” a government official said to Mrs. Séraphine Lugwarna Nzigire when she went to advocate for family planning services to reduce the high rate of maternal deaths in her district in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). She was not deterred. She told him she was not leaving until she explained what was happening in her community so he would understand the need. Mrs. Nzigire is with Bureau Diocesain des Oeuvres Medicale (BDOM), a Catholic organization that puts the wellbeing of the people at the center of its work, a trait that has been crucial to BDOM’s family planning advocacy success.
Mrs. Nzigire shared her story at the fifth International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) November 12-15, 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda. She spoke on a panel titled "Policy and Funding Change Requires Faith: Results and Lessons for Faith-led Advocacy for Family Planning." The panel was part of the faith community’s strong presence at ICFP 2018, which included at least six panel sessions, 22 posters and four lunch roundtable discussions on the role of faith and faith-based organizations in delivering and advocating for family planning services.
In South Kivu, where BDOM works, the average fertility rate is 7.7 children per woman and average daily income is less than $1. Religion is very important in this area: 80% of the population is part of a faith community, and 55% are Catholic.
BDOM’s advocacy strategy was to form a multi-sectoral coalition with representatives from the government, including the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health; religious leaders; women’s groups, and other civil society organizations. According to Mrs. Nzigire, the challenge of working together successfully required clear roles for the various advocates. Combining advocacy actions to targeted officials with community education and mobilization was also a key part of their strategy. The tactics paid off and South Kivu had the first ever budget line for family planning of $210,000 for 2018, which was included again in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget without needing additional advocacy. At the end of her talk, Mrs. Nzigire appealed to all African women to never give up the fight for a good cause.
Also on the panel was Rev. Moses Ssemugooma, Health Coordinator for the Mityana Diocese of the Anglican Church of Uganda, who shared his experience with family planning advocacy, including the Advance Family Planning (AFP) SMART approach. The SMART advocacy approach focuses on achieving “quick wins,” such as funding decisions that occur in the near term to achieve a broader goal and to keep up advocacy momentum.
Rev. Ssemugooma’s advocacy approach started with mapping family planning partners and activities in the area so he could involve stakeholders and create an interfaith group for the advocacy process. The interfaith group signed a commitment to support local FP champions, developed a fact sheet to demonstrate the need to invest in family planning and show that mothers were dying of preventable causes in their area. Rev. Ssemugooma said it is critical to build consensus among all stakeholders. “In our case, we used a one-on-one approach with key stakeholders to build a variety of champions among religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, government representatives and community leaders,” he explained.
In addition to the development of a Costed Implementation Plan for family planning, the group was successful in increasing the budget allocation for family planning and was involved in developing policies at the national and district level. In addition to advocacy efforts with government officials, Rev. Ssemugooma explained the Church of Uganda mobilizes Christians to seek family planning information and services, and organizes events to promote family planning and morals among youth. Healthy families are on the agenda at meetings for religious leaders and the Church of Uganda has mainstreamed family planning into its health programs at the Mityana Diocese.
Rev. Ssemugooma shared scripture that he refers to when asked how the bible references family planning. “We see God’s call for being responsible parents in Genesis 1:27-28,” he explains, “We are not instructed to multiply without looking at the repercussions.” He also explained how 1 Timothy 5:8 calls for believers to take care of their families and said we must be responsible in having a family we can support and nurture. In conclusion, Rev. Ssemugooma said, “No culture or religion wants to see unwell mothers. The community must be part of the solution and we must package the message to be consistent to that culture.”
Also on the panel were Rev. James Mlali, Executive Secretary, Abundant Life Communication and Broadcast Network in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Fadhili Msuri, CEO of Kenya Muslim Youth Development Organization (KMYDO). Abundant Life successfully employed the AFP SMART approach to encourage the development of a regional Costed Implementation Plan, which has inspired other regions in Tanzania to do the same. KMYDO used the AFP SMART approach to develop relationships with key policymakers in six counties and achieve increased funding levels for family planning.
In the ICFP 2018 closing ceremony, an interfaith group of religious leaders gathered on the stage. A statement of support for family planning, lessons learned at ICFP 2018 and commitment to continue providing quality FP services and to educate and advocate for family planning was presented by Rev. Dr. Lydia Mwaniki, Director, Theology, Family Life and Gender Justice, All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and Sheikh Musa Sindayigaya, Rwanda Muslim Community and Rwanda Interfaith Council for Health. The leaders closed by asking the rest of the delegates to commit to engaging with the faith community to work together to ensure all communities survive and thrive.