Family planning programs in Afghanistan have found surprising allies in imams, but many must defy death threats from the Taliban to participate.
Although the Qur’an allows contraception to provide breaks between pregnancies for nursing, and foreign aid has improved access to health care and family planning, contraception uptake has been slow. Cultural and economic barriers keep maternal and infant mortality rates high: 1 in 50 women die of pregnancy-related causes, only 22% of Afghan families use contraception, and 67% of mothers give birth at home, often because their husbands forbid them to go to a hospital.
Recognizing the value of partnerships with religious leaders, MSI and UNFPA approached local imams and their wives for support. But some clerics pay a steep price. “Imams like myself disappear and no one asks about them,” says cleric Mansour Mahsoom.