All women should have access to birth control. That's the message that a group of Islamic scholars and nonprofit organizers are fighting to spread across Afghanistan.
While abortion is illegal in Afghanistan in most circumstances, condoms and birth control pills aren't — they're just considered taboo. Birth control is not haram, the term used to describe something that is forbidden by Islam.
"If it's haram there should be documents saying so, but those documents do not exist," Dr. Rahmatudine Bashardost told the AFP. He is the program manager of a family planning campaign in Afghanistan's rural Balkh province, sponsored by the nonprofit Marie Stopes International (MSI). "On the contrary, there are documents that show that it's perfectly legal."
Women like organizer and educator Batul Mahadiyar are spearheading these initiatives. Mahadiyar received training from MSI and now advises local women on how to implement family planning in accordance with Islam. For example, Mahadiyar advises women on breastfeeding as a form of postpartum birth control, a free and natural method that even Planned Parenthood recommends to new mothers in the U.S.
Above all else, however, Mahadiyar wants to increase birth control access for women in Afghanistan, which has the highest birth rate in Asia.
"Having too many children may create problems in a life," Mahadiyar told the AFP.
Having more mouths to feed than a mother can afford can create real dilemmas for Afghan families. Training mothers-in-law, in addition to childbearing women, has been a crucial part in convincing women's husbands in particular of the virtues of contraception.
Cultural stigma and lack of education are still huge obstacles for Afghan women seeking birth control — or any reproductive health services, for that matter. In 2015, for instance, the World Health Organization estimated that death during childbirth accounted for 17.7% of all deaths for Afghan women of childbearing age.
"We don't have the resources to address the problem the way we would like to, the way that we need to," Dr. Ghulam Sakhi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, told the National. "They can't access our health centres, and it is a traditional society. Men won't send their wives to male doctors."
That said, birth control is accessible to a small proportion of the population. UNFPA reports have showed that the number of women who implemented family planning techniques, including contraception, jumped from 15% to 20% between 2010 and 2012, with educated and wealthy women making up the bulk of these numbers. Today, women like Mahadiyar in Balkh are working tirelessly to close that gap for disenfranchised populations.