October 20, 2015 — Religious leaders have a moral obligation to improve access to "basic family planning services" because the absence of such services prevents millions of people worldwide from being able "to lead healthy lives free from suffering and deprivation," write Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso, general secretary of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, and Dr. Ahmed RA Ragab, a professor of reproductive health and vice chair of the Faith to Action Network, in an opinion piece in The Guardian.
According to the authors, "More than 200 million women worldwide lack access to modern contraceptives -- and when families are unable to control the timing and spacing of pregnancies, the cost can be measured in thousands of women's and children's lives lost."
They note that while providing "family planning services and education to those who most need them may seem a daunting task ... a powerful infrastructure is already in place that can help us increase access to contraception: the global faith community." They explain that "faith-based organi[z]ations are often the de facto healthcare providers in many developing countries." Further, "[i]n many nations, religious leaders are the most visible and accessible form of authority, trusted far more than governments or non-profit organi[z]ations," the authors write, adding that "faith leaders [also] play an important role in influencing what is taught in schools and what services are provided in healthcare facilities."
The authors write, "Because of this influence, faith leaders worldwide have an unparalleled opportunity -- indeed, a moral obligation -- to prioriti[z]e conversations about family planning and close the contraception gap." Citing figures from the United Nations Development Programme, the authors note that "for every $1 spent on family planning, governments can save up to $6 for other development priorities." Further, they write that "global experts [widely agree] that people who have access to family planning information, services and supplies are likelier to complete their education, live more prosperous lives and raise healthier children."
According to the authors, "Many faith-based organi[z]ations are already taking a leading role in the promotion of family planning in developing countries, while respecting the core tenets of their faith." For example, the authors write that "[i]n the Muslim world, many imams, such as the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, Gad El-Hak Ali Gad El-Hak, spread information about family planning to their followers" and "encourage[e] use of long-acting reversible contraception methods such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants." Further, "[i]n 2012, 200 Indonesian imams came together to approve vasectomy, which was previously prohibited," the authors write.
In addition, the authors point to Al-Azhar University’s International Islamic Centre for Population Studies and Research's adoption of "a definition of family planning that includes treatment of infertility side-by-side with birth-spacing." They highlight how the organization "has made headway by sending travelling 'caravans' comprised of pro-contraception theologians and medical experts to communities around the world to dispel pervasive family planning myths."
Meanwhile, according to the authors, the Christian Health Association of Kenya has used "pre-existing church-run healthcare facilities to increase family planning engagement by more than 400% in the underserved rural communities of Siaya and Kakamega." The authors write, "By enlisting local religious leaders," the group "reached thousands of women, significantly increasing the use of contraceptive pills, IUDs, implants and condoms in both areas."
The authors note that "dozens of influential religious leaders will come from around the world to discuss family planning implementation at" an international conference in November, but "talking is not enough." They write, "To enact change on a global scale, religious leaders must embrace their community responsibilities, educate themselves about the various contraceptive options for couples, and engage their local governments and healthcare providers on the topic" (Grace Kaiso/RA Ragab, The Guardian, 10/15).