“WE need to be in the forefront as leaders to advocate for the use of contraceptives. Doing so does not mean we disrespect religion, no. It only shows that we care. Family planning is essential to families,” said Chief Mukuni of the Toka-Leya speaking people of Kazungula district.


The traditional leader was speaking when he received a copy of the 2019 report by the Medicines Research and Access Platform (MedRAP) policy brief which measures accessibility, availability and the affordability of contraceptives.


The report indicates that, even though it is a right, about 21 percent of married women aged between 15 and 49 still have unmet family planning needs - most of whom cite religious beliefs.


However, despite being a member of the Roman Catholic Church himself, Chief Mukuni has never shied away from any podium that speaks on the importance and use of contraceptives.


“Make no mistake however, this is not in any way to mean that people should be engaging in illicit sexual practices. I am of a strong belief that contraceptives are important to family planning,”he said.


Even though there is nothing in scripture which explicitly prohibits contraception, some christians doctrines do not encourage the use of contraceptives.


In fact, some churches believe that using contraception is "intrinsically evil" in itself, regardless of the consequences. Some religious groupings are only permitted to use natural methods of birth control. But the Church does not condemn things like the pill or condoms in themselves.


 “This could perhaps be because Christian scriptures encourages humans to be fruitful and multiply, or maybe because it is considered as committing abortion because science says conception happens immediately after sex.


“But well, the narrative is slowly changing because more women access contraceptives as it is considered as their right,” says a reproductive health advocate Marylin Maambo.


She says the statistics as revealed by the Medicines Transparency Alliance leaves much to be desired and is a clear indication that Zambia has a long way to go in meeting all the sexual reproductive needs of its people.


The research also suggests that there is an urgent need to continue intensifying strategies focussing on both the supply side and demand side of contraceptives.


“I think we need to escalate this issue even further. Gone is the time when talking about these things was considered a taboo. We need to talk about them openly so that many people have access to them,” says Ms Maambo.


She says many people, especially those in rural areas are deprived of family planning services.


“Contraceptives go beyond condoms and men. There has been so much emphasis on condoms without necessarily focussing and talking about the other methods that are open to women too,” she says.


During the recent dissemination meetings by the MedRAP team in Southern Province, the Livingstone Pastors Fellowship chaired by Pastor Oscar Muyunda said there is need for the church to consider advocating for the use of contraceptives.


Pastor Muyunda is of the view that the church must not discourage the use of contraceptives but rather teach about them.


“The idea is to teach our members that contraceptives help with child spacing and preserve the health of its members who might succumb to complications that come with pregnancy,” said Pastor Muyunda.


Whereas the church has been voicing out on an inclusiveness in sexual reproductive health rights, the Government is not paying a deaf ear too.


Southern Province minister Edify Hamukale stresses that family planning is more a need than a want.


Dr Hamukale is calling on all sections of society to relax their stance on contraceptives and make them even more accessible, irrespective of the environment.


“Let us start moving with the times. Times have changed and we cannot continue living in the past. Today, I am proud to be one of the supporters of contraceptives because they actually do more good than harm.


“What I want to see is a situation where we have these things readily available, in all health facilities, including in rural areas where most people seem to have challenges accessing them,” he said.


While prohibitions on birth control continue, millions of christians around the world, however, have simply chosen to ignore them.


Proponents of an all-inclusive sexual reproductive health right argue that if Zambia is to achieve universal health coverage and ensure sexual and reproductive rights for all, there is need to ensure that the commodities and services are accessible to all that need them, with particular attention for young women.



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