Chimene Mulutu and her husband Christian made a choice that broke the mold for newly married youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): they decided to use contraception to delay having their first child.
Chimene and Christian have been married for nine months, and they are using lessons they’ve learned about starting a family responsibly through Passages, a USAID-funded project. Passages is studying how the expectations of others affect how people like Chimene and Christian choose to plan their family or manage their relationship–especially during big transitions, like getting married.
“My husband and I want to have children, but not until we are more financially secure,” Chimene explains. Together, the couple learned about their family planning options and decided Chimene would get a contraceptive implant to protect her against pregnancy for up to five years.
“For me, the implant was an easy decision. But many young couples in Kinshasa don’t realize this is even an option. They know so little about sexuality and reproductive health. This is why I am involved in Passages. I want to help.”
Chimene recently completed a Passages training to support healthcare providers make their services more welcoming to adolescents and young people. With the help of youth like Chimene, Passages wants to reinforce attitudes and expectations related to planning for a family and child spacing that are positive for adolescents, newly married couples and first-time parents.
“The training taught me about the importance of birth spacing for the health of the mother and baby, and also for the economic reasons,” she says. “People only think of the joy of a baby, but they don’t realize how expensive it is and how difficult it can make life if you are not prepared. It’s important to understand the implications and to know that there are options.”
According to the latest PMA2020 data, only 20% of the population in Kinshasa uses contraception — one of the lowest percentages for a major city in the world.
“People, especially youth, are very sexually active here but nobody talks about it. To identify couples and young people, we are going to work with churches. It’s an easy place to meet people and it’s a safe space for people to talk. Many church leaders are already on board. They know this is important,” Chimene said.
In DRC, Passages wants to improve reproductive health in a long lasting way by working with institutions like churches. These types of groups shape the attitudes and expectations of families and young people, which affect their ability to manage their reproductive lives.
“It’s not going to be easy getting people to open up, but I hope to make connections with as many young people and couples as possible, Chimeme said. “When I talk to my friends and family about Passages, they are excited about it and think the program is a great idea. I think others will too.”
Passages project, led by the Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University in partnership with FHI 360, JHU’s Global Early Adolescent Study, PSI, Save the Children and Tearfund, aims to address a broad range of social norms, at scale, to achieve sustained improvements in family planning and sexual and reproductive health. This research project is building the evidence base and contributing to the capacity of the global community to strengthen normative environments that support positive family planning and sexual and reproductive health, especially among very young adolescents, newly married couples, and first-time parents. In DRC, Passages’ Transforming Masculinitites/Masculinite, Famille, et Foi study promotes positive masculinity and gender equality through congregations and religious leaders.
Photo Credit (s): Benjamin Schilling