Dhaka, 11th August 2011: Jahanara and Khadeja both live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They only live a short distance from each other, but their experience of life is worlds apart. Because Khadeja has been able to get the family planning she wants, she and her husband have been able to decide on the number of children that’s right for them. Jahanara hasn’t been able to make the same choices and both she and her family have suffered as a result. Their stories clearly show how family planning can define people’s lives.
Jahanara is 30 and lives in a slum area of Dhaka, one of the world’s most densely populated cities. She was married at just 12 years old and had the first of her seven children shortly after. She didn’t want to have children, but says she didn’t know anything about family planning back then. “If we’d been educated we would have used birth control.”
Bringing up seven children has taken its toll on Jahanara. “I’ve got to work very hard to look after all my children. I get up early and cook for my children, then I go to six different houses across the city to work as a cleaner. My health has been damaged by this sort of work, and having so many babies has worn me out. I get ill all the time. I have no strength left in me.”
Jahanara’s tough situation became even worse after her husband died, leaving her to provide for all seven of her children on her own. Unable to cope financially, she was forced to send two of her daughters away to work as maids aged just six and seven. She hasn’t seen them since they left.
Jahanara wants to make sure her 16-year-old daughter doesn’t have the same experience of life that she’s had. So she's urging her to delay marriage and having children. She's talked to her daughter about taking advantage of health education services and access to family planning. A Marie Stopes International outreach team has recently started offering both of these services in the slum area where they live. “I say to my daughter when you are ready, have two kids. It’s enough. I won’t let her have the same miserable life as me.”
Miles away, worlds apart
Just a few miles across the city, Khadeja’s life is very different. She is 28 and lives with her husband, son and mother-in-law.
Khadeja and her husband met in the garment factory where they both work. After marrying they decided to wait for a year before starting a family. Khadeja started taking the pill, which she was able to get every month from a family planning clinic run by Marie Stopes International in the factory where she works. As well as providing voluntary family planning services, the centre’s trained nurses provide counselling to the factory workers about the full range of contraception choices they have available on site and at low cost.
Khadeja took the pill until she and her husband decided the time was right to have a child. When she returned to work after having her son she spoke with one of Marie Stopes International’s family planning nurses, and decided the pill was the best option for her, and started taking it again.
Because they are able to control the size of their family, Khadeja and her husband have a good quality of life today, and are able to plan for their family’s future. “Without the pill we’d have had lots of children by now and it would have been impossible for my husband to support us. Life’s not so tough when you’ve only got a small number of children. Our family is small but we are happy.”
Striving to do more
Providing voluntary family planning makes a difference. And yet 215 million women in the world currently want to access contraception, but are unable to do so.
Family planning is one of the most cost effective public health interventions. It means that women like Khadeja can make informed choices about the timing and spacing of their pregnancies and the number of children they have. It can help women achieve gender equity, allow them to engage politically, and contribute to economic growth.
We strive to ensure that more women have the choices Khadeja does, irrespective of their education, where they live or what money they have. Choices about whether to use contraception or not, choices about the type of contraception to use, choices about where they get their contraception from.
That’s why in 2010 nearly 1.2 million women in Bangladesh trusted us to provide them with a modern method of contraception. By providing these services in Bangladesh, we estimate that there will be 1,897 fewer maternal deaths and 189,893 fewer unsafe abortions. And around the world, every year 7 million women and men choose to trust us to provide them with family planning. As a result there will be over 4 million fewer unintended pregnancies, many more lives like Khadeja’s and many fewer like Jahanara’s.
Learn more about our family planning impact around the world