In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the important role that religious leaders (RLs) and faith communities play in shaping health-seeking behaviour. Religious leaders are often influencers of morality and ethics, defining what is prescribed or proscribed by a faith. This is particularly relevant with respect to family planning and population issues as they are at the point where religion, culture and morality overlap.
Religious Leaders through their mother bodies (Muslim Association of Malawi – MAM, Quadria Muslim Association of Malawi – QMAM, Malawi Council of Churches – MCC, Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) through Catholic Health Commission – CHC, Evangelical Association of Malawi – EAM, Seventh Day – SD) are supportive of the efforts to integrate issues of family planning and managing population growth in their religious teachings.
Religious communities just like any other community are not immune to problems resulting from lack of family planning and overpopulation. Women are predisposed to having unplanned pregnancies resulting to too many and too frequent children that they cannot properly take care of, and this also contributes to their poor health and that of their families. However, family planning improves health of the mother and socio-economic development of the family. Healthy families can greatly contribute to the development of their congregations and the country. Therefore, religious leaders are justifiable to play a key role in promoting family planning and managing population growth.
Family planning issues and choices are sometimes confusing and religious followers often get confusing messages about what God wants, what the scripture says, and what is responsible behaviour for each of them. However, religious leaders can play a key role in clearing the confusion and preventing the problems that would arise due to rapid population growth, both to their followers and the nation as a whole.
In population and development circles, engaging religious leaders in managing population growth especially family planning promotion as a key strategy, is crucial. It is also of great importance for religious leaders to advocate for keeping girls in school to delay first pregnancy, promote gender equality issues and many more.
Sub topic: Benefits of Engaging Religious Leaders
When faith leaders understand population issues, they can convey messages to the majority considering that 97% of Malawians have a religion of some kind. This can ensure a significant impact of population and development efforts in the country.
Moreover, as religious leaders have readily available audiences, utilizing that opportunity to educate the masses about the benefits of family planning to individuals, families, communities, and the country as a whole can significantly lead to improvement in managing of Malawi’s population growth.
Furthermore, family planning information and practices that are supported by religious leaders and institutions are more likely to be accepted by the community. It is therefore imperative that religious leaders have accurate and appropriate information and skills to help their followers make informed choices on matters related to their health and well-being. Messages from religious leaders have real meaning to people and are often acted upon.
All these, however, rely on well informed religious leaders who can help direct followers choices and responsibilities, both on an individual level, and community level.