“I want to tell them that it’s okay to use contraception, but the Church says no.”

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.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/discombobulation/ Elizabeth Hiatt

    This is a serious issue, and I’m continually frustrated by the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to accept the reality that contraception and condoms save lives. However, I do feel that it is important to understand that Fertility Awareness, the only method of birth control that the church approves, is NOT the same as the rhythm method. When used very carefully FAM is successful. I would never say that it should be the only option, nor do I agree with the Church’s stance that the only option during one’s fertile period is abstinence. As somebody who practices FAM along with occasional barrier methods as a way to avoid the use of hormones and to better understand my own body, I’m uncomfortable with it being written off as unreliable and unscientific at best and superstitious and repressive at worst.

    • http://feministing.com/members/tigerrose13/ Kimberly

      “I’m continually frustrated by the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to accept the reality that contraception and condoms save lives.”


      • http://feministing.com/members/tigerrose13/ Kimberly

        And as Jessica said in her book “Full Frontal Feminism”, people like that just want to make sure that women aren’t having sex, and if we are, we’re ‘punished’ with pregnancy and/or diseases. Even if it was without consent. It’s unfair, not to mention cruel. if you ask me.

  • http://feministing.com/members/scarlatta/ Kathleen

    “he cannot endorse any form of birth control besides the rhythm method.”

    That’s not what the article says, nor is it true. Natural Family Planning and the rhythm method are not the same thing, and it is the former, not the latter, which Church officials would be advocating. Ernst even acknowledges that, while she might not consider it ideal, involvement of the Church in educating local people and “[being] more active about their family planning initiatives” could be part of the solution – which is an interesting take, given how often the Church is viewed as the enemy of family planning.

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

    I’m frankly not surprised about this. Most of the Catholic Church, if not all, seem to be hell-bent (not a pun) on making sure that family planning methods are out of the reach of those that need them the most. The actually effective method approved by the Catholic Church is pulling out or abstinence.

  • http://feministing.com/members/discombobulation/ Elizabeth Hiatt

    Jessica, that is not true. In fact, the RCC considers pulling out wrong. The Catholic Church approves of what they call Natural Family Planning, and what secular sources call the Fertility Awareness Method, which is a legitimate and effective method when people are well informed about how to use it. While the ideal situation is one where women have all of the options available to them, it seems that better educating women about FAM/NFP can help them restrict their family size now.

    • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

      As far as I’m concerned: pulling out and natural fertility planning are one and the same.

  • http://feministing.com/members/scarlett/ scarlett

    Thanks so much for posting this!
    Since I read an article in the german feminist/political magazine EMMA about a doctor who treats horribly traumatized women in a hospital in North Kivu/Congo who experiened rape, war and extensive killings in their villages, I was always interested to learn more about this excrutiating situation for women/ the population in Kivu/ about Congo in general. So, Thanks!