Contraception: The Truth About Birth Control And The African Culture

Africa’s Contraception views are shrouded by moral, cultural and religious ideals. Contraception is a topic that is not welcome to be discussed in some parts of Africa.

However this does not mean that there were no birth control techniques in existence before the modern artificial ones. Contraception in Africa is largely rejected for religious and cultural reasons; before health concerns.

So what is contraception? 

Contraception is the use of unnatural barrier methods to prevent pregnancy. The commonest artificial way of doing that is the use of condoms. Others come as pills, insertions, injections and surgeries like vasectomy and abortion.

It is good to mention that contraception does not concern the woman alone but the men as well. Developed countries use contraception as a means of family planning and population control.

Africa’s Contraception views

Children are valued and recognized as priceless gifts all over the world. In Africa the value is more stressed than normal. Africans view children as assets for parents in their old age. Thus the more children they have the better.

Some ethnic groups in Africa still maintain that children are not supposed to be counted.

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In the traditional African setting, children are divine blessings from a supreme being, gods and deities. Till date some remote communities still make annual sacrifices to gods of fertility. The idea is to bless their farm lands to yield rich harvests and families have no difficulty in bearing children. So contraception would mean rejection of life’s ultimate gifts from the gods/deities of fertility.

Contraception in areas like this is not welcome.

Another reason why it is a taboo is that the men folk’s insecurity and fear that contraception will promote infidelity.

Polygamy as an African lifestyle helped in a way to keep one woman from having excess children. Because the man has several options, the woman has time to recuperate from child birth and improve her health before the next child birth.

The commonest traditional method of avoiding pregnancy in Africa is abstinence which takes discipline and most times difficult to adhere to. Other methods include, the rhythm and withdrawal methods.

On health grounds, the modern artificial methods have been found to give a range of side effects like abdominal or back pain, depression, mood swings, headaches and hormonal imbalance. Artificial contraceptives increases risk of noncancerous ovarian cysts in women.

A 1980 survey by Mayo Clinic showed that women who took oral contraceptives prior to the birth of their first child have a 44% average risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer.

As a result of these effects, women even in developed countries are opting for the traditional methods which are more body- friendly. Another reason why Africans prefer the traditional method is affordability/accessibility.

A 2003 NDHS survey revealed that while 13% of currently married women at the time of the survey were using a method of family planning; only 8% were using the modern method. This indicates that 5% of married women used one traditional method of family planning or another.

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Africa has the least percentage of women using artificial contraceptives. But are there chances that the number will increase in the future?

With the international call for Africa to check her population rate, it has become a heated debate if African governments will legally back that up in time.

Pro-life activist, Obianuju Ekeocha argued the issue in a BBC interview, accusing the western world of forcing down their ideologies on Africa. She said it would be a form of ideological colonization.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest country by population with a 2015 population of 178,516,904. With the stressed economic condition, the government is raising concerns over the fate of the country as the population increases. Artificial contraceptives are proposed options for effective family planning.

Aside the side effects, the artificial barrier methods have been reported to be effective for avoiding pregnancies. The Nigerian government for instance will have the challenge of critically weighing their options given that the country is a typical religious country with staunch Christian and Islamic fanatics.

Same will be the fate of most African countries. Saying yes to artificial contraceptives may also include saying yes to Abortions. Pro-life activists categorize both as a violation of human rights. This is because in some cases, fertilization takes place but growth is inhibited by abortifacient pills.