Improving Access to Family Planning through the Faith Community: SAFPAC Chad’s Religious Leader Committees


Dora Ward Curry, SAF PAC - Senior Technical Advisor, Monitoring and Evaluation, tells the story of her technical assistance visit to Chad in July 2013

Not your average family planning partner’s meeting

We set out in the morning from the CARE-Chad field office in Gore (southern Chad, near the border with Central African Republic) for a visit to the Supporting Access to Family Planning and Post-Abortion Care (SAFPAC) Initiative.  We are going to visit our work in the small camp of CAR refugees called Dosseye.  Roger, a Social and Behavior Change assistant for the project, is our host; he tells us later that as a child he himself was a refugee from Chad to CAR, and is now serving CAR refugees back on the Chad side of the border. We are not headed to an International Planned Parenthood affiliate, or to a women’s or youth organization.  We start our visit with the preachers.

SAFPAC-Chad’s approach to working with religious leaders

Our first order of business is to attend the monthly “tri-partite” meeting between CARE-Chad staff, the camp’s religious leaders and the health center staff.  Together the team reviews the data from the last month – the number of new family planning users and their choices of method, the number of community activities and how many of those how chose to use family planning were referred to the clinic by the community.  They discuss rumors about family planning and how to combat them.  They review their new strategy of visiting each household individually for one-on-one discussions.  The religious leaders’ biggest concern is that they want to expand their work include the villages beyond the borders of the camp, and need CARE’s help negotiating access and transport with the UNHCR authorities running the camp.

The SAFPAC Chad team, under the leadership of Dr. Jimmy Nzau, developed the strategy of forming committees of religious leaders.    Dr. Jimmy reasoned that working close with these influential people was a way to overcome the initial reluctance of communities to talk about family planning, and the related but taboo subjects of sex and gender power.  The team won the support of the religious leaders with facts.  In a formal orientation workshop at the beginning of the initiative’s activities, CARE staff provided the clerics with a careful, thorough explanation of the science behind birth spacing and contraceptive methods and allowed them to ask all the questions they needed.  Eventually, the team convinced religious leaders from Christian evangelical, Catholic and Muslim congregations that family planning can mean the difference between life and death for women and children, and, through using texts from the Bible and the Quoran, that their own sacred texts condone family planning.  (Because each committee includes representatives of all religion practices in the community, they also strengthen tolerance and dialogue more broadly.)  By winning over the religious leaders, the team opened the space for women and their husbands and other family members not only to access services, but also to discuss the topic of family planning openly, an empowering act in itself. 

(There are other necessary elements to ensuring women’s access to reproductive health services, of course.  During our visit we also met with the camp clinic’s midwife and nurse, reviewed their data, ensured they had adequate supplies and observed the quality of the care they provided. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs on SAFPAC’s simultaneous work to supply and train providers and ensure clinical quality in the health facilities.)

Reaching real couples 

During our visit, a woman came to the clinic requesting family planning, chose an IUD and received one.   As we drove away, Roger shared her full story with me.  She had had eleven children.  Six had died, only five remained alive.  She and her husband felt they had had enough; she had come on her own, but their decision was as a couple.

When we talk about the highly politicized and highly personal matters of family planning, we can lose sight of their impact on individual’s lives.  It is these personal stories that have built the united community working together in the Dosseye camp to get women access to family planning.  Husbands, mothers in law, clerics – many of whom we are all too ready to think of as “barriers” - want to protect the lives and health of their wives, sons and daughters.  The CARE-Chad team helps the religious leaders and their congregations make the connection with the impact too many pregnancies, and pregnancies too close together, too early or too late on their own wives, daughters-in-law, parishioners and children.  This process overcomes the politics of sex and gender and transforms family planning into just that – a technology for planning the timing, number and spacing of births for the survival of mothers and newborns, and ultimately a safe and health family.

Certainly there are ample scientific studies to prove that family planning leads to longer intervals between children, saving women’s and children’s lives, and that post-abortion care and complete abortion care saves women’s lives.  What opens up conversation in communities (in any setting – religious or secular, rural or urban, developed or developing), though, is considering the real impact of reproductive health as integrated part of people’s real lives.  

Written by Dora Ward Curry in July 2013. For questions or further information, please contact Dora at

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