Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

World Contraception Day: Crossing the Borders of Tradition and Religion

September 19, 2012

This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012. For more stories and to get involved further visit No Controversy.

In many parts of the Muslim world, the topic of contraception is largely avoided, as is sexual education in general. Further, any discussion related to sexuality, especially to the unmarried, is a taboo. Many countries in the Middle East even have laws against the purchase of oral contraceptive pills.

But contrary to various beliefs, the Holy Quran does permit contraception as long as both partners consent, it’s not permanent, and it doesn’t cause bodily harm. Education is needed in order to change the perception of policy makers, and this education needs to be respectful of their traditional values while reassuring them of the benefits of making contraception available to young people.

Where do the problems lie?

As a long-standing advocate and a peer educator in reproductive health, it has always been close to impossible to carry out peer education programs. According to Middle Eastern traditions and Shariah (Islamic) law, pre-marital sex (even referring to consenting adults above the age of 18) is punishable by law, which basically brands all contraceptive methods as instruments for having sex out of marriage. As a result, any real discussion about the uses, risks, and contraindications are unknown to adult women. The general view is that these topics promote sexual behavior among unmarried men and women.

Most contraceptive advice is provided to married couples by their doctors. However, this leaves a large group of unmarried men and women at risk of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. In the recent past, there have even been cases of attempted suicide by unmarried pregnant women who feel they have no options. Unfortunately, emergency contraception is not widely available in the Middle East, and to make matters worse, this has led to an alarming rise in cases of fake and often dangerous pills that are purchased online from chat forums.

How do we address this issue?

It is important to realize that the progress may be slow, but every step forward is significant. Links must be made between the significance of providing contraception and improving overall healthcare. Experts who understand these links should be engaged, at the beginning, to impart knowledge and train peer educators, to construct policies and to negotiate with government agencies.

As a culturally sensitive issue, it is also important that educators command the respect of the general population. In Islamic culture, the Friday congregational prayer and the sermons that are delivered are given great importance. Basic awareness-raising can begin through theses sermons, while keeping the Islamic law according to the Quran and Hadith in the forefront. This will enable the possibility of reaching out to large groups at a time while respecting all the cultural, traditional and religious boundaries.

Educators also need to be selected on the basis of sex, nationality, language, and communication skills. This would allow each peer educator to be specifically tailored for specific groups. In contrast to the western world, such sex education classes would need to be carried out separately for the different sexes.

Most importantly, we must be open to feedback from participants. This will help educators improve their teaching, answer the relevant questions, and dispel the common myths and misconceptions about contraception. This process can be further be facilitated by the use of the social media and the internet.

Education and information is the key to progress. Providing information that is freely available is the best way to empower youth about making responsible decisions because we all want a world where where every pregnancy is wanted.

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