Family Planning Benefits the Entire Family
February 20, 2014
Alisha Kramer, Program Manager and Research Assistant
Global Health Policy Center, Center for Strategic and International Studies
See the pink fabric poking out of the shawl on the little girl's back? That's a baby.
Yes, the little girl carrying her doesn't look much more than a baby herself. You may be surprised--I certainly was.
|A young girl carries her little sister on her back.|
Yet this is not an unusual sight in rural Ethiopia. Girls are expected to care for their younger siblings and are responsible for a heavy load of household chores, often at the expense of attending school or keeping up with school work. Despite gains in school attendance in recent years, far too few girls are prepared to pass the national exam after grade 10 which severely limits their opportunities for further education.
While this remains a reality for millions of girls and young women in Ethiopia, especially in rural areas, one of the ways that the government and health workers are trying to change that is through expanding access to voluntary family planning. The link between family planning and education may not be entirely clear, but let me explain.
I am in Ethiopia to examine the importance of family planning for women's health and well-being, as well as the key role family planning plays in helping Ethiopia achieve broader health and development goals. I am part of a CSIS team that is filming a video and leading a Congressional staff delegation to examine these issues.
I took the picture of the little girl and her siblings in Adi-Ekli Kebele in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. In Tigray and across Ethiopia, health extension workers (HEWs)--Ethiopia's ambitious project to train and pay community health workers--are educating communities on the health and economic benefits of healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies and the key to achieving this--voluntary family planning.
What I have learned is that healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies has far reaching benefits, not only for a woman, but also for her children.
HEWs visit a rural household in Adi-Ekli Kebele to discuss
As one HEW put it, "When you think about family planning, there are many important things...Most women don't have good economics and there is a problem with how to feed their children. The children don't go to school or have good quality clothes...I don't have enough words to explain the importance [of family planning]. It is too large to explain."
By deciding when to have children and how many children to have, women and their husbands can ensure that they are able to provide for them. They can send them to school-- sons and daughters. They can give them enough of the nutritious food they need for healthy development. Fewer children also means that daughters will not have to care for numerous younger siblings and can instead focus on their education.
|Haimont (left) and her husband are interviewed by CSIS
Senior Associate Janet Fleischman for a CSIS produced video
on family planning to be released in April.
Haimont, a mother of three and a family planning user, summarized the benefits of family planning for herself and her family, "I am freer. My children will have good minds because they develop in a good situation. They will be educated. They will be leaders. They will be useful for the country and for our family, god willing."
The Ethiopian Government's leadership on family planning has been impressive, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Ethiopia is a culturally, religiously, and geographically diverse country. This diversity contributes to the complexity of expanding access to family planning and further complicates many of the challenges. If you want to learn more about family planning and the health extension worker program, read this commentary written after the first CSIS trip to Ethiopia in October 2013. The video and trip report from the February 2014 CSIS delegation will be published in early April.