In Senegal, family planning is a controversial topic in the Islamic community, which makes up 94 percent of the population. But misconceptions around contraceptive use are changing due to a number of progressive Muslim Senegalese religious leaders known as Imams. One such leader is Imam Mousse Fall, who is working to show other religious authorities how family planning fits into the narrative of the Qur'an.
"In every district in Senegal, we offer training sessions with local doctors and influential imams," said Fall. "We cover both theological and medical issues, so that imams also understand how contraceptives work and what the side effects can be. This is hard and continuous work."
According to Fall, he has helped train more than 3,000 imams who have converted their ways of thinking from being anti-family planning to accepting modern family planning methods as a means to improving the lives of women and the children they may choose to have. Much of this progress is due to funding from philanthropic organizations, such as the Gates foundation which invests $140 million per year in family planning programs worldwide. The family planning public health campaign is being spearheaded by IntraHealth, an NGO that distributes contraceptives throughout Senegal.
For the past six years, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded family planning and reproductive health programs in India, Kenya Nigeria and Senegal. The work of the Gates Foundation is in support of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a holistic set of 17 objectives that aim to solve poverty, health crises and social inequality by 2030.
The program received $16.5 million in grants to create meaningful interventions that included mobilizing media to demystify myths about contraceptives, engaging in respectful dialogues with religious leaders and teaching men about the about the importance of family planning.
Family planning is a core component of gender equality. When women are able to choose when they become pregnant they're more likely to be ready for the financial obligations that come with raising a child. Also, women who have control over their reproductive rights are more likely to avoid the complications associated with frequent pregnancies.
ISSU (Initiative Sénégalaise de Santé Urbaine) is one of the IntraHealth programs for improving access to family planning resources. From 2009 to 2016, the program received $16.5 million in grants to create meaningful interventions that included mobilizing media to demystify myths about contraceptives, engaging in respectful dialogues with religious leaders and teaching men about the about the importance of family planning. In addition to cultural advancements coordinated efforts have driven technical improvements in the supply and distribution of contraceptives across Senegal, but especially in urban areas. In four years, modern contraceptive use among the poorest women across six cities in Senegal increased from 24% to nearly 37%.
As a result of the work done by family planning advocates, philanthropists and religious leaders like Imam Fall, the number of contraceptive use increased by 8 percent in from 2012 to 2014. The increase within that two year span is the largest annual gain of any West African country in history. Also, according to the Gates Foundation, the use of modern contraception has increased from 3 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2016.
Despite the accomplishments, there's still more work to be done to meet the UN's objectives for their Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality by 2030.