Religious Leaders in Senegal Stymie Birth Control

Religion Fellows 2013

By Allyn Gaestel

March 15, 2014

Also published by The Washington Post

Photo: Allison Shelley

A woman sweeps a treatment room at the health post in the village of Mereto in Koumpentoum district, eastern Senegal.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Imam Cherif Ibrahim, 49, who has four wives and 11 children and hopes for more, has his family compound in the village of Koussanar in eastern Senegal. “Islam accepts organizing births, but it doesn't accept limiting births,” he says.

Photo: Allison Shelley

A view of a typical family compound in the rural village of Mereto in eastern Senegal. Usually, each wife and her children will have their own hut. A man may have up to four wives under Islam, provided he can support each wife and her children.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Women check in at the entrance to the district health center in Koumpentoum, eastern Senegal.

Photo: Allison Shelley

A nurse prepares to see a patient in the prenatal clinic at the district health center in Koumpentoum. Some patients at the clinic receive birth control without the knowledge of their husbands because they fear the men will not approve of the practice.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Oulimata Ndiaye, 25, who has three children, ages 3, 2, and 1, learns about family planning methods from midwife Ramatoulaye Ciss, as her youngest child sleeps on a bed in the district health center in Koumpentoum. Her husband gave her the money for the birth control.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Fatou Ndiaye Turpin, program director at Senegalese women’s rights network Siggil Jigeen, leads a workshop with local Muslim leaders in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Siggil Jigeen partners regularly with imams to create and promote theological justifications for family planning. They highlight sections of the Koran that emphasize preserving women’s health and spacing children. “It’s always men who come and say this is forbidden by Islam, et cetera, and women don’t know what’s in the Koran,” Turpin says.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Youssoupha Sylla, 37, hands their youngest child to his wife, Fatoumata Sylla, 25, in Koumpentoum. The couple has had four children and in 10 years of marriage. She wants family planning, but her husband is against it.

Photo: Allison Shelley

This 30-year-old mother of three, who lives in Koumpentoum district and requested that her name be withheld, has chosen to use the injectable contraceptive Depo Provera over other forms of birth control to conceal its use from her husband. “He doesn't agree with family planning. We try to talk about it, but he never accepts," she says.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Imam Ibrahima Diallo, 40, corrects the lessons of students studying at the family's Koranic school in the village of Mereto. Diallo does not believe in birth control and defends large families. “In Senegal, we have solidarity. You can take your child to your sister or brother's house for help. So that avoids the problems the Europeans talk about. We can have an even bigger population,” he says. The suspicion toward international aid emphasizing contraception is often couched in terms of a culture clash and an attempt by outsiders to limit what many Senegalese see as the rise of the demographic power of Islam and Africa.

Photo: Allison Shelley

Women say Jummah prayers at a mosque in Koumpentoum district. Men and women pray in separate areas, with the women’s building behind the men’s building in a corner of the complex.

Allyn Gaestel reported with Allison Shelley from Senegal with support from the International Reporting Project.