According to the March 15 Washington Post article “Family planning program in Senegal drawn into conflict with religious leaders
,” Senegal’s family planning program clashes with the country’s traditional culture and religious beliefs.
But the article presents a one-sided and stereotypical view of the reality of family planning in Senegal. It quotes one imam (or Muslim religious leader) and uses a few scattered quotes to suggest that all, or even most, Islamic leaders in Senegal are against family planning.
This is not true.
Planning births has been part of Islam for a long time, and we allow and encourage modern methods that allow for birth spacing. We see family planning as essential for the health of both mothers and children and for the wellbeing of families. Pitting Islam against modernization is not accurate; it fosters stereotypes of Muslims and Africa that we need to move beyond.
There are rumors in Senegal that Islam forbids family planning and contraception. We are working to dispel those myths.
Allyn Gaestel, author of the article, wrote:
“Largely financed by international donors, the program is part of a global campaign that aims to give 120 million more women around the world access to contraception by 2020. For supporters of the program, the benefits of contraception are clear: better health for women and children, economic benefits and smaller families. This last justification, smaller families—and so smaller populations—has drawn the women’s health program into conflict with religious leaders and rekindled suspicions about the motivations for international aid.”
Yes, there are rumors in Senegal that Islam forbids family planning and contraception. We are working to dispel those myths. The interpretations of the Koran, our sacred text, that bolster those myths are simply not up to date.
The Koran talks about donkeys as a major means of transportation and about withdrawal (or coitus interruptus) as a means of contraception. But today’s reality is different. We now have cars. We now have effective modern methods of contraception.
In addition, there are verses in the Koran that encourage family planning. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies for at least two full years. The Koran even encourages birth spacing for financial reasons; the Prophet says people should avoid having children they cannot take care of.
We have not been brainwashed by international donors to support family planning. Our primary interest is the well-being of the people of Senegal.
Senegal’s Network of Islam and Population—representing a large group of religious leaders—is working closely with the Ministry of Health, the Senegalese Network of Journalists for Health, Population, and Development, and other partners such as IntraHealth International to help dispel myths and to ensure that health workers are providing high-quality family planning services.
The population of Senegal is evolving quickly. The use of modern methods of contraception is starting to increase. Within the last two years, the use of modern contraception has increased from 12% of married women to 16%. And it continues to grow.
We want the world to know that we get it. We need to advance with the times to make sure that Senegal is not left behind.
This piece was submitted to the Washington Post in response to the referenced article. The Washington Post declined to publish it. Other contributing authors were Mousse Fall, an imam with the Network of Islam and Population in Senegal; Papa Abdoulaye Faye of the Senegalese Association of Journalists in Health, Population, and Development; and Awa Cheikh Seye Ndiaye of IntraHealth International.
Since 2000, IntraHealth has worked closely with the government of Senegal to develop the country’s family planning policies and programs. Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we work closely with religious leaders, journalists, and other members of civil society to ensure women and their partners have access to high-quality family planning information, services, and contraceptives.