Population Matters

Islam and family planning in Senegal

Islam and family planning in Senegal

The Diallos of Senegal have a time-tested definition of success in which a large family plays a central role. But that model is clashing with a government program to increase contraceptive use and reduce family sizes. Largely financed by international donors, the program is part of a global campaign that aims to give 120 million more women around the world access to contraception by 2020.

For supporters of the program, the benefits of contraception are clear: better health for women and children, economic benefits and smaller families. This last justification, smaller families — and so smaller populations — has drawn the women’s health program into conflict with religious leaders and rekindled suspicions about the motivations for international aid. For Diallo and his son Ibrahima Diallo, who is an imam, their large family is not only an economic boon, it is also a moral imperative.

“If Europeans say the population is too large so we need to limit births, Islam can’t agree with that because God says, ‘You are my people, multiply,’ and it is the duty of God to take care of the family,” the younger man said. […] Senegal, a country of 13 million, is 94 percent Muslim, and the views of imams such as Diallo are deeply respected.

West Africa has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the world. And while some local activists have been pushing for family planning for decades, much of the current programming is funded by international donors. A Senegalese women’s rights network called Siggil Jigeen has been advocating family planning for nearly two decades, and program director Fatou Ndiaye Turpin is frustrated with its dismal progress. The biggest hindrances, she said, are Islam and rumors about side effects of contraception.


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