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Girls & Women

Tanzania's President Advises Women to Stop Using Birth Control to Boost Population


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Family planning is a proven means of reducing poverty and empowering women to achieve their full potential. By discouraging the use of safe contraceptives, President Magufuli is disadvantaging women and people living in poverty in Tanzania. You can join us in taking action to call for improved access to maternal and reproductive health care here.

To the outrage of many, Tanzanian President John Magufuli urged women to stop using contraception to help combat the country’s declining population growth rate on Sunday.

Magufuli said the East African country needs more people and that people who use planning methods are “lazy.”

“They are afraid they will not be able to feed their children. They do not want to work hard to feed a large family and that is why they opt for birth controls and end up with one or two children only," Magufuli — a father of two — said at a public rally in the Meatu district of Tanzania.

The president cited decreased population growth rates, and therefore decreases in labor force size, in Europe and other countries as examples of the negative side effects of birth control and family planning, local newspaper the Citizen reported.

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Magufuli also pointed to the government’s plans to increase investment in health care spending, particularly for maternal health, as a reassurance that families would be supported if they had more children. Magufuli similarly urged women to “throw away their contraceptives” in 2016 after announcing that education would be free, implying that free education would offset the costs of raising and supporting more children, the BBC reported.

Nearly 27% of the country’s 57 million people live below the poverty line — on less than $1.90 a day — according to the World Bank. Research has shown that family planning and empowering women, rather than restricting their bodily autonomy, is crucial to and effective at reducing poverty.

While Magufuli’s recommendation to abandon contraceptives stops short of being policy, rights experts and advocates worry that his comments will set a new norm.

“It’s a statement by a sitting head of state at a time when Tanzania takes every statement that he issues to be law. From past experiences whenever the president issues a statement on a given issue, in practice it becomes policy, and so we can expect ramifications,” Judy Gitau, Africa regional coordinator for nonprofit Equality Now, told the Guardian.

Pregnant girls in Tanzania have been expelled and even arrested after President Magufuli said last year that “no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school,” at a rally. 

“After getting pregnant, you are done,” he added.

Given that the rate of teenage pregnancy in Tanzania was 27%, according to government data collected between 2015 and 2016 — more than four times the rate of neighboring Rwanda — Magufuli’s advice to stop using family planning could have a major impact on adolescent girls.

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Family planning was officially enshrined as an international human right 50 years ago, and today, about one-third of Tanzanian women use contraceptives for family planning, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Access to family planning is particularly empowering for girls and women and helps to improve maternal health, reduce maternal mortality and early pregnancies, and keep girls in school.

“When women and young people are able to choose if, when and how often to have children, more girls can stay in school and more women can decide to enter or remain in the workforce; ultimately entire families, communities and countries thrive,” Jacqueline Mahon, the UNFPA Country Representative for Tanzania, said last month.

Mahon was present at Sunday’s rally, but has not responded to the president’s comments, CNN reported.

Magufuli’s comments not only reflect his personal sentiment, but appear to echo the recent trend in sub-Saharan Africa of policies, which impact and seek to govern the lives and bodies of women and girls.

Both Burundi and Sierra Leone announced bans on pregnant girls attending school and returning to school after having children this year.