Uptake of family planning services among men and women living in Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei communities is still low. Reasons for apathy vary; Social cultural beliefs, low education/literacy levels, religious beliefs -all lead to poor health seeking behavior.
“Our culture and traditions are the main reasons why women are wary of family planning services”, said Mrs. Diing Aten during the “ICPD what has changed” conversation event that was held last week in Kakuma.
At the event, women pointed their inability to make decisions in their homes which makes it difficult for them to decide how many children they would want to bear. Such gender inequalities generally place greater constraints on women’s access to Family planning programming.
For Instance, women from South Sudan have little say in their homes. As a matter of fact, they are not allowed to speak before men, or as Diing puts it, “We die with our problems”
However, Diing is happy to have an understanding husband who is warm to the need of spacing their children. At 35, Diing has four children. According to Diing, her age-mates have an average of 6-8 children.
Unsurprisingly, Diing is a community leader. She is also a member of the community health committee in Kakuma Refugee Camp. She has interacted with various family planning programmes supported by International Rescue Committee (IRC) and UNFPA Kenya.
She too is a family planning champion. “I use my position to reach out to my fellow women and men. I speak to them about the importance of family planning. I have individually convinced about 10 families. I will still reach out to more.” She assertively affirmed. Diing pointed out that besides culture, women fear using contraceptives for they fear that they might make them infertile.
John Mading prides in his big family of three wives and 13 children. He purports that during war, many men, women and children were killed thereby gravely affecting the South Sudan population. He considers having a big family as away of replacing the relatives he lost during war. “We are replacing our lost population” Said the 47-year-old South Sudanese Refugee who has been living in Kakuma for 27 years now.
On his part, Mading maintains that he is fulfilling the theological command by God “Go ye fill the world” He quoted. Mading believes that children are from God and that men should obey Gods’ command.
In addition, he sighted that his culture despises men with less children, “Men with few children are seen to be weak. In fact, if two/three years go by without your wife getting pregnant, the community speaks ill of you.” Said Mading.
According to Mading, cultures such as wife inheritance among the South Sudanese are in place to ensure that widows bear more children which the late husband would have sired before he departed.
However, Diing affirmed that awareness and educational programs are active within the refugee community, but the deep-rooted cultural beliefs are a big hindrance to uptake of family planning services.
John Wafula, Humanitarian Programme Specialist, UNFPA Kenya spoke of the above issues as priority matters that will be addressed at the upcoming ICPD+25 Conference, “ it was necessary for us (agencies) to have this conversation with our beneficiaries to illuminate what more can be done to accelerate the ICPD PoA” Said Mr. Wafula
“It is evident that more has to be done especially around the component of advancing gender equality. As the conversation unfolds, we must recognize that reproductive health, women empowerment and gender equality are the pathway to sustainable development” Concluded Mr. Wafula.
Twenty –five years ago in Cairo, Egypt, leaders drawn from 179 countries promised especially women and girls’ reduction in maternal deaths, elimination of violence and ending harmful cultural practices against women, ending unmet need for family planning, and advancing gender equality. This came to be known as the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD PoA).