At Nicholas Kristof’s blog On the Ground, Amy Ernst writes about the connection between contraception, poverty, religion, women’s rights and health in Congo. Ernst is an American, and is in Congo working for an organization called COPERMA, which helps survivors of rape and war. In this post, she warns that while Congo’s HIV/AIDS rates are relatively low, they cannot stay thus when contraception remains largely unknown and unavailable.
The quote in the title of this post is from a Congolese Catholic priest, who admitted to Ernst that despite the Church’s teachings, he understands the desperate need for contraception in Congo. But because of the Church’s teachings, when women come to him asking for guidance on how to avoid having more children than they can afford to take care of, he cannot endorse any form of birth control besides the rhythm method natural family planning.
This interaction, between Ernst and her Congolese friend, is an apt demonstration of how contraception, women’s equality and religion are so closely linked:
A Congolese friend recently begged me to buy her condoms or la pillule (birth control) from the hospital in Lubero. She is getting married next year and wants to have a relationship with her husband but still be able to continue her education. She explained she’s afraid to buy them herself, because the community is Catholic, and she feared that people would ostracize her as a sinner.
Add in the threat of HIV/AIDS, the cost of raising children and the social stigma of having small family, which Ernst explains, and you have an immensely complex situation. Go read the whole piece. It’s not exhaustive – obviously one could write hundreds of pages on the nuances of this multi-faceted problem – but it’s a worthwhile read. You can also read more about her experiences in Congo on her blog.