Date: Sun, 11 Jan 98 17:40:02 CST
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: KENYA: Family Planners Target Men
Article: 25417

/** ips.english: 313.0 **/
** Topic: POPULATION-KENYA: Family Planners Target Men **
** Written 3:05 PM Jan 10, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Family Planners Target Men

By Judith Achieng', IPS, 7 January 1998

KISUMU, Kenya, Jan 7 (IPS)—Local health officials here say they have managed to get men to go for counselling at family planning clinics, a marked departure from the general male attitude towards birth control methods.

The change is noticeable at the men-only clinic in Kisumu where men queue up everyday. Some go for condoms, while others walk in with their wives to consult an expert on the best family planning method.

They even come for sterilization, says George Oketch, a nurse and counsellor at the clinic.

For a long time, family planning groups in this country had concentrated on encouraging women to use modern contraceptive methods to limit the number of children they bear. But the results were poor. The men were not consulted and that is where we went wrong, explains Oketch, who is also a counsellor at the clinic.

Figures from the Ministry of Health show that between 1976, the year the family planning campaigns began, and 1995, Kenya's birth rates dropped only slightly. The reason, according to the Family Planning Association of Kenya (FPAK), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), was mainly because many men rejected the use of contraceptives.

This led experts to begin targetting the forgotten 50 percent—the men—in 1996, and this—coupled with efforts which began in 1991—has caused the birthrate to decrease faster. It now stands at 2.7 percent, much lower than the 5.6 percent in 1991.

Elly Ogutu, who co-ordinates the male awareness project, says FPAK is now persuading Luos, one of Kenya's ethnic groups, to drop their centuries-old tradition of having many children.

That is why, he says, Kisumu, the main town in the Luo land, located about 400 kilometres northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, was chosen as the first city for the pilot phase of the FPAK's project.

FPAK is the only body that runs the sole male-only clinic in the East African country. Besides Kisumu, it also runs two other projects in Kakamega and Nakuru which are inhabited by the Luhya and Kikuyu—Kenya's largest ethnic groups.

The Luo, who number some 4.5 million, live in Nyanza Province on the shores of Lake Victoria, Africa's largest stretch of inland water.

Despite the positive response from some men, experts say they still have a long way to go. Incidents like a recent one in a Nyanza hospital where a woman was publicly beaten up by her husband for seeking family planning without his consent, are many.

The woman, a mother of four girls, was trailed by her suspicious husband who said he was disciplining her for trying to deny him more children when he had paid so much dowry to her parents.

The man says he wants more boys who would defend his clan and extend the values of his ancestors.

To avoid family problems, women like 34-year-old Christine Odhiambo have thrown in the towel and are doing what their husbands want—having more children. I know it is bad for my health but he won't listen to anything about family planning, laments Odhiambo who has just given birth to her fifth child.

Experts say many like Odhiambo contribute to Kenya's population woes, unwittingly. Kenya, with a population of 30 million, is now ranked among the 50 most populous countries in the world.

A recent population data sheet released by the United States- based Population Reference said the East African nation comes 35th just after neighbouring Tanzania. China leads the pack with almost 1.4 billion people.

The report casts doubt over whether by the turn of the century Kenya and most African countries will be able to feed half their populations with increased birth rates and diminishing agricultural output.

Another report compiled by the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Law and Policy and the International Federation of Female Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya) says the population problem also affects women's reproductive health. Many women continue to bear the brunt of traditional practices such as prolonged child births that keep them in the margins of economic development, it says.

The report, Women Of The World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives, Anglophone Africa, says the extent of poverty in most African countries has been made worse by the low status of women caused mainly by their poor reproductive health. Reproductive rights is critical both to advancing women's rights and to promoting development, it says.

FPAK and other ngos involved in population control work believe men could be holding the key to acquiring smaller families and improving women's reproductive health. We are putting most of our resources in educating the forgotten 50 percent, says Ogutu.

The response we are getting is encouraging, something we didn't believe could happen in this part of the country, adds Ogutu. This year alone, more than 600 men and 250 couples have visited the clinic.

One of the clinic's clients, Jim Ngere says he has discarded some of the myths and fears about birth control pills he once harboured. My wife and I have decided to stop at our second child, he says.