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Fifty-five (55) year Evelyn Nyaruwe from Nemutenzi village in Nyanyadzi Hotspings of Manicaland province is a mother of 8 children. She says for women of her age it is not uncommon to have such large families. In the absence of modern FP methods women resorted to some  unorthodox methods to space their children


“For many women of my generation, we had many children not by choice but because of the circumstances,” explains Evelyn. “Family Planning methods were not readily available. We used a lot of unorthodox methods to space our children. Most of these did not work because most of us ended up with many children that we could not afford to look after.”


One method Evelyn recalls was tying knots of medicinal herbs around one’s waistline. The number of knots tied around one’s waist symbolised the number of years the woman wanted between her last child and her next pregnancy. Another method used back was for men to go and work in the city or nearby South Africa for 2 or 3 years and only return when it is time for the next the child.


Sixty-two (62) year old Rhoda Ndangana from nearby Chibuwe village is a mother of four. She lost 4 other children in their childhood. She says as a woman of faith she used to use faith healing to space her children.


After giving birth I would go to church and speak to the man of God to pray for me to space my children,” says Rhoda. “The prophet would ask how many years you wanted to wait until the next baby. He would then spiritually tie the womb and give you some holy water to bath with to prevent any pregnancies during the said period.”


Rhoda says this method worked for some but not for others.


“For me it worked but for many others it didn’t. We used these methods because there was no other option. I am however encouraging my children to use modern family planning methods,” explains Rhoda. “The lucky part is that back then things were not as difficult as they are today. If you have many children what will you give them? School fees and food are expensive; these days children are learning up to university unlike back in our day when second year of high school was considered good enough,” says Rhoda.


From knowledge passed down by her mother, forty-two (42) year old Patricia Mhukayatadza, a mother of five outlines another method of family planning used by women. This entailed jumping over a shrub to prevent pregnancies and jumping over it again to trigger fertility for the next pregnancy. But what would happen when after 3 years that shrub becomes a tree or someone cuts it down for firewood?


“Once you identify your shrub it was important to continue tending it, making sure it remained small enough to jump over again when the right time came,” explains Patricia with a laugh. “At least that’s what my mother told me,” she adds shrugging her shoulders and gesturing with her hands at the same time.


While for women like Rhoda and Evelyn family planning was by chance not choice due to limited choices those many years ago, today many women in Zimbabwe can celebrate the availability of a wide range of family planning methods on the market. UNFPA has supported the National Family Planning programme in Zimbabwe since the early 1980s.  Zimbabwe’s Contraceptive Prevalence Rate of 67% remains one of the highest in Africa. However, a lot more still needs to be done to end unmet need for FP, which is at 10.4% (national average) but higher (12.6%) among adolescents. With support from UNFPA and other partners, Zimbabwe plans to reduce unmet need for FP from 10.4% to 6.5%, and from 12.6% to 8.5% among adolescents.  – Bertha Shoko