Women in Nigeria whose clerics extol the benefits of family planning were significantly more likely to adopt modern contraceptive methods, new research suggests, highlighting the importance of engaging religious leaders to help increase the country’s stubbornly low uptake of family planning services.
The findings of the study, led by the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP), which is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and CCP’s Nigeria Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI), underscore the outsized role played by religious leaders in whether modern contraception is considered taboo or acceptable. In Nigeria, 9.8 percent of women of childbearing age use modern contraception. In Rwanda, for example, the figure is 45 percent and, in Malawi, it is 62 percent.
“Religion is an important part of the social and cultural fabric of many communities in Nigeria and elsewhere,” says study author Dr. Stella Babalola, associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s department of health, behavior and society. “As such, religious leaders have the power to inhibit or facilitate the adoption of modern contraception. Given their high level of influence, interventions that engage clerics as change agents for shaping opinions and influencing behaviors related to family planning are crucial for increasing contraceptive uptake in the country.”
The study, published Oct. 3 in the journal Global Health: Science and Impact, evaluated data, collected in 2015 by the Measurement, Learning and Evaluation project, from a randomly selected sample of 9,725 women of reproductive age (15 to 49) in four Nigerian states.