Monica Lucas, Family Planning Champion Geita District, Tanzania
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Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am Monica Lucas, married and a mother of three children. I am the first wife to my husband, who also has another wife. This is a common practice among my community, where a man is allowed to marry up to four wives, and women do not have control over this practice. I have a small garden where I grow fruits and vegetables, and we have enough for my family and even some left to sell to my neighbors.
When am not with my family, I talk to women and girls about family planning. I recently joined a savings group (a self-organized community-run group for saving, lending and borrowing money) and this has given me more opportunities to meet and share with women of all ages. I also work closely with health providers from the Bulale Dispensary (one of the TCI-supported facilities in Geita District, Tanzania) who have taught me how to talk about family planning. They have also given me some fliers that I use when talking to women and men – even the ones who buy my vegetables. In my community, the stigma of using contraception and accessing services is affected by myths and misconceptions, and that is why I dedicate my time, to educate my peers and women everywhere I go.
Was family planning a topic that was discussed when you were growing up?
When I grew up in the village, there was no one to tell you about family planning. My close relatives talked about making me a good wife. I was, therefore, from the age of eight, taught how to cook, wash and clean in a way a man would appreciate. The pressure is strong in my community to be a good wife and to ‘give’ your husband as many children as he wants. During one of the visits to the child welfare clinic, a health provider asked me if I wanted to take up family planning. I did not know what she was talking about, and either way, I had never received a ‘sexual health talk,’ so I said no.
How important do you think family planning is for you and your community, and why?
I believe every woman needs to receive accurate information since many of us in my community do not know anything. Most young people are told that family planning is bad because they will never have children. The women in my community even say that you will become promiscuous when you start using family planning methods.
So, they end up having children that they cannot take care of, and they do not go to school. Like me! I would have wanted to be a nurse. But I was told I have to take care of my child first, and then before I knew it, I was pregnant again with my second child. Then it dawned on me that family planning was not being talked about. Eventually you grow up, and still, you cannot get information.
Our girls and boys will go to school, learn and be able to make decisions that will make them have better lives – not struggling to meet their needs, or even go out in the city and do greater things. Growing up in this environment made me passionate about empowering women and families. I want to make sure people have information, so they will also be able to share it with those around them. You can’t give what you don’t have, so it is important for me to get this information and knowledge.
What does family planning mean for your life?
In my area we have young girls getting pregnant at a very young age and being patriarchal. Men are the ones who decide for women what they do with their lives. I see family planning as freedom because a man or woman is given a choice on how to manage their life.
How have you supported your community members to embrace family planning?
My strategy was simple: to gain as much knowledge as possible and share it with others. Through working with the dispensary, I was engaged and was taught about the benefits of family planning as well as how to counsel people. First, I was invited to participate in a health talk day on family planning. Later, at the dispensary, there was a whole-site orientation, and I was lucky to participate in it. I got new skills and this training helped me, showing me how to do what I do better.
I have now become a champion and a health educator. I have talked to over 100 young girls and women. This has boosted their knowledge and some have taken up contraception. I feel proud to see women improve their health behaviors and even start to support their families by engaging in small businesses. Parents now are confident to talk with me when they want me to talk to their children, or when they want to have that “sexual or bedroom” talk.
What kind of progress would you like to see in the area of family planning?
I want to talk about involving men and young boys. Giving women information about their health and that of their families is not enough without them. Every time I go to the dispensary, I only see the women carrying their babies, and I wonder where are the men who are responsible.
Do you have any advice you would like to make for your community members and leaders?
Community members and leaders in churches and councils (government-appointed authorities responsible for the local social and political affairs among its residents) should be able to speak positively about family planning and make sure people make their own choices, without the influence of their partners and the community in general. The community has to be key in reducing discrimination that may come because someone is using family planning methods. And for the men, I would want them to support their sisters, aunties, and even mothers to use family planning options. I want them to listen to what the nurses tell us: family planning is safe.
Do you have a message or statement you would like to make for other women?
I have been using family planning methods for more than six years. If I had not started, who knows where I would be – knowing my children all quickly followed one another like my co-wife who has five children. I am happy to share my journey if it can change the current situation and improve the uptake of family planning and prevention services.
Monica Lucas, Family Planning Champion Geita District, Tanzania
Family planning is all about choices between partners, and it should be an easy decision if all parties agree. Having a large number of children might not be viable because of the impact on the family’s economy and the mother’s health.