Rethinking the Model Family in Ethiopia

September 3, 2013 • Family Planning, Ethiopia, News

Rethinking the Model Family

This story is part of a special series, Family Choices: Fertility and Infertility in Africa.

In northern Ethiopia, near a village called Addis Zemen, boys herd cows across an open pasture. Barley and wheat fields surround them, and mountains rise up in the distance.

For centuries, farming has been a way of life here. And having lots of children – to herd cows and plow fields – has been the norm.

But some people are trying to change that.

“Christianity is not opposed to contraception. It’s opposed to killing and lying – not to birth control,” says Teguna Asmara, a priest with Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian church. Standing in an open field, he wears a dusty white robe and speaks to a group seated in a circle.

Behind Teguna are two government health workers in white medical coats. When Teguna finishes speaking, one of the women, Argorye Kulueymehken, steps up to address the group. She says that having too many kids, and not spacing pregnancies, increases the risk of illness and death for mother and child.

These kinds of meetings – called “community conversations” – are happening all over Ethiopia. The government has organized them because it is concerned about the country’s birth rate and wants to change public attitudes about family size.

Health worker Argorye Kulueymehken says she targets women who are having a lot of children.

“We approach them as sisters, and we say, ‘Look, you are pregnant and you already have two babies – look at how you are struggling,'” Argorye says.

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