How Men Work with Women on Family Planning—and Achieve Sustainability

© Ann Goodman 2012

Lara Crampe, IIRR’s Development Officer

Q&A: Following UN Women NYC’s “3 Pillars of Sustainability,” May 8, 2012, Ann talks with IIRR Development Officer Lara Crampe about how one community addresses poverty, environment, food security, health and welfare.

1. Ann: What does the Institute for International Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) do to advance sustainability?

Lara: IIRR has been working for more than 50 years in community-led development. We work with rural communities in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Our work put communities in the driver’s seat of their own development. We believe that this is absolutely necessary for sustainability and effectiveness in development work. We have more than 150 partners that we work with and through on the ground. To us, the key feature of a sustainable development project is that the local people are involved in all levels of planning, direction, implementation, management, and ultimately the success of the work.

2. Ann: What is IIRR’s LOWO program for family planning? What makes it particularly sustainable?

Lara:  The “Learning Our Way Out,” or “LOWO” program,  that we piloted in Ethiopia is a great example of how we are able to effect real change for communities by partnering with the local people. The LOWO Program addressed the problem of over-population in rural Ethiopia. In 1998 when we started the pilot project, women on average had 6 children. Some girls in rural areas are married at age 14 and begin having children.

3. Ann: Could you give an example of the sort of problems facing women in such areas and how LOWO leads to more sustainable conditions in the community, for both women and men?

Lara:  Let me share a couple of stories from women who participated in our LOWO program.

“I was on my way home after taking my National Exam for entry to university when i was abducted. I was 17. I became a wife and I gave birth every year for the next 5 years.”

Another story:

“I was forced to drop out of school when I was married at age 10. I was a mother of 4 by age 18. I understand how early marriage limits a girl’s education. I do not want any more children.”

These personal stories and the related effects were taboo discussions in many of these communities. Previous family planning focused program floundered because of rumors, lack of supplies, hesitant women, taboos discussing sex and religious beliefs that children are a gift from God.

4.Ann: How did the LOWO program address what must be frightening situations for girls and lead to more sustainable practices in the community?

Lara: In the LOWO program, the main success was that women AND men were trained in facilitating conversations in the community – in groups, in homes, with couples, and one-on-one. They were not teachers or trainers. They were trusted friends and neighbors who led discussions, asked questions, listened, and created an environment where discussing the issues related to poverty was okay.

5. Ann: What was the outcome?

Lara: The [trusted community members] didn’t push contraception or family planning; instead they got people talking about their own experiences, the challenges they faced, especially related to poverty – the environment, food security, money, employment, illness, etc.

The aim—and outcome–was that these discussions would help communities come to their own realization that the out-of-control growth in population was a major contributor to the problems they faced.

6. Ann: Could you enumerate some of the key results of LOWO for long-term sustainability of the community?

Lara: First, women AND men could openly discuss family planning and child spacing. Second, referrals to family planning providers increased. Third, contraceptives were explained, de-mystified, and made available. Fourth, girls returned to or stayed in school. And, finally, micro-loans started new small businesses.

7. Ann: Sustainable development is an ongoing, slow and seemingly unending process.  How does IIRR measure milestones along the way, positive performance and success?

Lara:  Impact and Measurement are problems that all development organizations struggle with. We are no different. Community-managed development has its own challenges related to data collection and impact measurement.

I think it’s important to look at success on several levels when talking about community-led change. The first level is action. Has the community organized? Are they moving towards action? Have discussions begun and have leaders been identified? The second level is attitude change. Can you see a change in the attitudes, maybe not through the entire community but are there murmurings of change?  This is the beginning of the groundswell that will lead to your “indicators” being achieved. The third level is reaching indicators of success; this is usually when the real measurable data can be collected. Finally, the overall goals are achieved.

It is important to track and celebrate success at each level, and to acknowledge the work and achievement in the community itself to keep momentum.

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