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The Men Who Believe

Where women are in danger, new allies emerge in the fight for contraceptive choice: religious leaders.

Qari Sirajuddin is worried about the future of his community. “I run Al-Falah Model Senior Secondary School. Whenever I can, I get involved in activities to make our children and their families aware of health issues.”

Sirajuddin is a Muslim religious leader from a rural district in Haryana, India. His school is surrounded by plots of arid farmland, where people struggle to earn a living. Crops rely on rain, and it doesn’t rain enough.

“We have a lot of problems related to maternal and child health,” Sirajuddin says. “Women and their children are always in danger. That is normal here.”

Here are some of the dangers they face:

  1. Early marriage. “Girls are often married around age 15 or 16,” he says.
  2. Illiteracy among women. Only 37% of women can read and write. 70% of men can.
  3. Unsafe delivery. Most rural women give birth at home—and over a third of them without any skilled health provider to save their lives if something goes wrong.
  4. A lack of family planning. More than half of all rural women want to delay or stop having children but aren’t using contraception.

Do they know they have a choice?

“Until girls are educated and the quality of health services improves,” says Sirajuddin strongly, “it will be difficult to change this situation.”

A First for India

In 2015, Pathfinder set out to do something that had never been done before. We partnered with the government of Haryana to make injectable contraceptives available for free to women at public health facilities—a first for India.

To date, through our program, over 5,900 women are using injectable contraceptives for the first time. We’ve helped train hundreds of doctors and nurses and thousands of frontline health workers to serve them. Women are gaining access to contraception—and the support of their partners to use it.

“It’s a victory for reproductive rights in our country,” says Dr. Ghazala Shaheen, a lead member of Pathfinder’s team in India. “And men helped make it possible.”

Reproductive rights are women’s rights. It’s her health that’s directly affected. But unless we involved male partners, we will not have the strong results we know are possible.”

Want to know one of the differences we found between women who continued to use injectable contraception and women who dropped out after the first or second dose? Supportive husbands.

“In these villages, men are the decision makers,” says Dr. Ghazala. “Our team shares information about contraception with husbands and fathers during home visits. We share knowledge with male religious leaders like Sirajuddin, who have the power to show people that their religion supports family planning. Family planning saves lives.”

Dr. Ghazala Shaheen counsels women on contraception.

Using Your Influence for Good

Today, Sirajuddin plays an important new role in his community.

“Islam is never against healthy spacing of children,” he says. “It is because of illiteracy and lack of knowledge that some people think so. I will reach them with our message.”

Education and health care—that’s his formula for a better future. It’s Pathfinder’s too.

“I did not know about family planning before.” By age 28, Asmeena has been pregnant nine times. Not all her children survived. Today, is is one of thousands of women using injectable contraception for the first time through our program. Her husband, Altaf, supports her.

 

“This project is very good!” he exclaims. “It is creating awareness among the masses. Even for me, my knowledge has improved. Now I tell people to marry at an appropriate age, space your children, plan for a child—when you want. And when that child is born, think of how to give your child the best upbringing.”

The school day ends. Sirajuddin watches his students stream toward home.

“Give them education. Keep them healthy.”

Thanks to your support, we can reach more women and girls and their new allies in the fight for contraceptive choice. Make a gift today.

Every girl deserves the same choice.

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