By Prince Kurupati
The Tanzanian President while speaking at a rally in Meatu, in the Simiyu region recently sparked an uproar in the country after stating that women should not use birth control pills. President Magufuli said that the use of contraceptives is a sign of laziness.
President Magufuli said the remarks in reference to the ‘hardworking’ people of Meatu. He said, “You people of Meatu keep livestock. You are good farmers. You can feed your children. Why would you opt for birth control? These are my views, but I don’t see any need for birth control in Tanzania.” In light of this, Magufuli said that people who opt to use contraceptives do so because they are lazy to feed a large family.
The president also lambasted outsiders saying that they were the ones who are giving bad advice to Tanzanian people. Magufuli went further to state that outsiders were badly advising Tanzanians on birth control whereas in their own countries they are battling a sharp decline in population especially among the productive age group owing to the use of birth control methods.
The remarks by Magufuli angered a lot of people both locals and foreigners.
Members of the legislature who spoke to the media soon after Magufuli’s rally said that it is sad to see the president encouraging people to stop taking birth control pills. Cecil Mwambe, one of the vocal MPs in the Tanzanian Parliament said that the remarks from the president are ignorant and unwise more so considering the time in which they came. Mwambe said that currently the country’s health insurance scheme can only accommodate a maximum of four children from one family and encouraging women to stop taking contraceptives will only worsen the strain being faced by the health sector in the country.
The biggest worry for Tanzanians as relayed by Judy Gitau, regional coordinator for Africa for the charity Equality Now is that often times in Tanzania a statement such as the one given by Magufuli end up becoming a law. Gitau said, “From past experiences whenever the president issues a statement on a given issue, in practice it becomes policy, and so we can expect ramifications.” Rapping Magufuli’s remarks, Gitau went further to state that “We (Tanzania) will end up with women having unplanned children, huge families and unable to sustain their lives.”
Having already spearheaded the creation of some unconventional laws in the country such as banning miniskirts, it will not be much of a surprise if Magufuli leads from the front in formulating a policy which rewards women who do not take birth control pills.
The Speaker of Parliament who is a personal friend of the president, Job Ndugai, however, said that there is no need to worry as far as policy change is concerned because the president’s comments were advisory and did not represent a governmental position.
Tanzania is a signatory to the Maputo Protocol which gives women the power to control their fertility and chose any method of contraception. The Maputo Protocol currently influences the country’s sexual and reproductive health policy.
Statistics from the UNFPA state that only a third of Tanzanian women do use family planning. A lot of women especially those in rural Tanzania do not use family planning methods. It is for this reason that the country has one of the highest rates in the world as on average one woman has five children.
In another event which angered many women across the country, the Parliament with the blessings of Magufuli recently banned all female legislators from wearing artificial nails and false eyelashes. The decision was reached after a ‘health official’ advised the Parliament of the health problems posed by artificial nails and fake eyelashes.