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Cops in Chad and Family Planning – An Unlikely Duo

By Dr. Jimmy Nzau, CARE

By Dr. Jimmy Nzau, Deputy Project Director with CARE

In my work for CARE, an organization that fights global poverty, I never thought I’d have to use my persuasive powers to get out of going to the police station.

I’m a doctor. For the last three years or so, I’ve been focused on making sure women in southern Chad, a Central African country have access to family planning.

It’s no easy feat. Chad’s health system is afflicted by years of instability marked by wars. The country has a population of over 11 million people and is home to a growing number of refugees from nearby war-torn Central African Republic.  Its maternal mortality rate of 1,200 maternal deaths out of 100,000 live births, is among the highest in the world.

Meanwhile, women in Chad have an estimated 6.7 children, with about 60% of girls becoming pregnant before age 18. It’s a patriarchal society with a strong religious influence.

That last part is what almost landed my colleagues and me in jail.

Things were going well at first. We were training providers; getting the right medicines and equipment in place.

We knew we had to get the religious leaders on our side, so we spoke with Imams, pastors, and even priests to open the dialogue about the benefits of family planning.

Dr. Jimmy Nzau, a Deputy Project Director with CARE (center, no uniform) with soldiers in Chad.

Dr. Jimmy Nzau, a Deputy Project Director with CARE (center, no uniform) with soldiers in Chad.

In just two months we saw family planning patients grow to 1100 a month from just 100. We were reaching women in very remote, and underserved areas. We were pretty pleased with ourselves.

Until one afternoon I received a panicked call from Josef, the head nurse at one of the clinics, noting that the police had arrived.  The police had received complaints from a disgruntled husband and family of a woman who was given contraceptives at the clinic without her husband’s permission. This, the police warned, was against the law.

Somehow I calmly asked to speak to the police. I asked if they had heard of the “National Reproductive Health Law of 2002” which guarantees the right of women to choose family planning, with or without, her husband or family’s permission.

When the police replied they’d never heard of it, I offered to come and speak with them about the law.

Instead of being resistant, the men wanted to learn more about family planning. “How long does it last?” they asked. “What does it cost?” and of course, “where can we get it?”

These police officers were husbands, boyfriends, and fathers.  Sex, relationships and fertility deeply matter to men too.

Eventually we facilitated a two-day workshop for the police and military groups. In the end, they committed to act as counselors or conflict negotiators for couples who disagree about the use of family planning.

And CARE was reminded about the importance of engaging men and boys as we go about our important work of empowering women and girls. If you invite men and boys to the discussion, the path to the world we want to create just gets that much shorter.

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