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Nigerien Schools for Husbands Could Spark Change For Country’s High Population Growth Rate

Niger, an African country with the highest population growth rate of any nation on earth, is also one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. In an attempt to stave off the problems caused by this combination of rapidly rising population numbers and vast shortage of resources, the United Nations and the Ministry of Health have launched “Schools for Husbands” programs in villages across the country. These programs facilitate discussions among men about issues such as birth control and proper prenatal care, attempting to prompt new consideration of reproductive choices and shift cultural viewpoints about contraception and family size.

In Niger, where the average woman will have seven children during her lifetime, the country’s culture has traditionally exalted large families. But the local chief of the region of Dosso, Maidanda Saidou, says prizing large families is “in contrast with what is needed for development” and that a “fast-growing population really hampers the development of the country.”

Indeed, according to Niger’s assistant country representative for the United Nations Population Fund, Ali Hassan, the government’s current goals run counter to the country’s cultural outlook concerning family size. He explains “the government’s only priority is to slow down population growth for people to just survive.”

The Schools for Husbands program hones in on the patriarchal structure of Nigerien society, recognizing that shifts in cultural norms must come through, at least in part, the country’s male citizens.

Though use of contraception in Niger is still low, the schools seem to be having an impact. Local doctors say more women are asking about family planning options, and Nigerien government officials report the proportion of women who report using contraception has increased from 5 to 13 percent since the schools launched.

The Schools for Husbands program appears to be a step in the right direction for the overcrowded and under-resourced country of Niger.

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