Butal is a religious leader, known as an Imam, in an Islamic school in Afghanistan. She is also a health social activist with Marie Stopes Afghanistan, where she has been working for about a year, teaching women about family planning.
MS Afghanistan works to share important reproductive health messages through Imams. Approximately 99% of the population of Afghanistan is Muslim, and many women like Butal follow the guidance of the Quran.
In her role as a health activist, Butal has made a large impact in her community. “During this one year, we had eight seminars per month, and in each of these seminars about 12 women participated. Sometimes all of these 12 women ask for a Marie Stopes Afghanistan referral card for themselves or for their family members,” she explained, adding that many women shared these referral cards extensively with women in their families. “So each month about 400 - 500 women get the cards and go for check-ups or family counseling.”
All of the women who participate in the monthly seminars share their stories with Butal. She has observed a trend in many of the women she sees: in Afghanistan, having a son is often a priority for mothers.
Because of this, Butal provides information on the health benefits of birth spacing.
“Some of [my clients] only want to have a baby son and get pregnant many times in a short time without any space among each child just to have a son. So when they come here, we explain to them, in an Islamic manner, the impact [that] multiple pregnancies over a short period of time will have on their health.”
Or, at other times, Butal hears from her clients about the economic benefits of family planning.
“There was this woman whose husband had cancer, but she still wanted to have a baby son. Her youngest daughter was only three months old when she came to us, and we advised her against becoming pregnant again so soon.” After attending a MS Afghanistan counseling session, the woman decided to wait to have another child. Two years have passed, and whenever she comes to visit Butal, she thanks her and says how much she appreciates her advice. Now that her husband has passed away, she realizes what economic difficulty she would have been in had she conceived again.
Because Butal and her team explain family planning and reproductive health issues in a straightforward and sensitive way, many of the women understand the benefits of healthy birth spacing, and leave the sessions determined to share what they have learned with their families. If their husbands or other men in their families have questions, Butal invites them to come to the Islamic school to discuss their concerns. They often come back to Butal and thank her for her advice.
“Once the women learn from us, they then share with their families, including the men.” Butal explained that many of the women begin spacing their pregnancies after a consultation with MS Afghanistan. Because of health activists like Butal, women in her community are now able to plan their pregnancies and prevent unwanted ones.
“A mother is a very important person for every child and the whole family, so they have to be healthy. This way they can raise good and educated children, which will benefit society as a whole.”