Across Uganda, religious beliefs and doctrines are the main barrier to women and couples seeking family planning services with many such beliefs strongly against modern contraceptive methods. Additionally, in many communities, family planning is viewed as a woman’s issue and very few men take interest in understanding family planning and its benefits.
However, in Butembe Subcounty, Kyankwanzi District, one Muslim cleric is changing this narrative and making a difference.
This all began when 56-year-old Hajji Abdul Mulinda attended a community gate keepers’ [leaders’] training organized by USAID through the Uganda Family Planning Activity (UFPA) implemented by Pathfinder International. The aim of this training was to sensitize community leaders on the benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies and the critical role family planning plays in enabling Uganda realize its development goals.
Hajji Abdul started working as a community mobiliser driven by the new knowledge he had acquired, coupled with the aggression to correct the mis- representation of his religion - Islam as a barrier to family planning.
As the district Imam of Kyankwanzi, Hajji Abdul has regular audiences every day as people come to the mosque for prayers where he uses the opportunity to talk about family planning, answer questions from his audience, and in many instances refer couples, women and men to health facilities for services.
As a respected member of the community Hajj Abdul conducts door-to-door visits, leads community dialogues, and also receives people seeking further information on FP at his home. Hajji Abdul’s passion has propelled him to speak to larger audiences and through this project he has been selected to educate the entire Kyankwazi community through the organized radio talk shows - ably responding to questions raised by community members who call in seeking clarification on the many misconceptions regarding contraception, clarifying on side effects and the misrepresentation of Islamic beliefs on use of contraceptives.
Hajj Abdul has referred 137 women and counting, many of whom have opted for Injectables, Implants, and pills. When some women are not confident enough to go to a health facility, he arranges with the nurse at the facility to wait for them, and on many occasions he has personally escorted couples that want to go together for services.
Hajj Abdul would like to improve his knowledge on reproductive health, and is particularly interested in understanding HIV and nutrition because he has interacted with many families struggling with these two health issues. He wants to be an all –round resource to his community. He enjoys holding health education and community dialogue sessions especially among the Muslim communities who look to him for guidance.
“There is very little understanding of the benefits of family planning among men. Many do not understand the economic implications that come with every child that is born”. I show my congregation - both men and women - how many children can cause poverty in the family. When they understand that, they ask me to refer them for FP services”.
Haj Abdul Majid Mulinda- Imam Kyankwanzi District