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From Matale to Trincomalee: Empowering women with the right to choose

Pushpa* in Matale has been married for 9 years and although she loves her husband, she’s faced a lot of criticism over the years and now fears that her marriage may be in trouble. Pushpa and her husband desperately want to have a child of their own but haven’t been able to conceive yet.

Her in-laws, neighbours and community blame Pushpa for their lack of children even though they haven’t had any fertility tests to determine the cause behind their difficulties in conceiving. Her husband’s family are now pressuring him to divorce her and she fears her family will be broken apart.  

It was at this point in her life that Pushpa took part in a Training of Trainers programme on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) organized by the Family Planning Association (FPA) with support from the PROMISES project. At the training, Pushpa learnt of all the options available in Sri Lanka for couples struggling to conceive and received a one on one consultation from the Medical Officer of Health that conducted the training. The Medical Officer of Health took her through the available treatments and referred her to a clinic in her area. The relief she felt at this newfound hope for a child of her own and the realization that she was not alone in her struggles was so overwhelming that she burst into tears.  

Following the initial consultation Pushpa had many follow-up sessions with the Medical Officer of Health and even convinced her husband to join her in these sessions. Once her husband was exposed to accurate information on SRH he stopped blaming Pushpa for their troubles. The couple is now undergoing fertility treatment with a united front at the clinic they were referred to.  

Across the island in Trincomalee, Devi* is happily married with 5 children and another on the way. She loves her family and enjoys being a mother. But she knows her limits and how much it takes to make sure all her children are loved and well looked after. Once she welcomes her sixth baby into the world, she feels her family will be truly complete.

Her husband however, while happy with their family, does not believe their faith permits the use of contraception as he equates contraception to abortion. Devi is desperate. She does not want any more children and does not want to be at the mercy of her own body.

Devi was another individual chosen, during a field visit by the SRH Trainer for Trincomalee, to participate in a grass-root level training on SRH organized by the FPA. The session took participants through Sexual and Reproductive Health and what Family Planning services are available to them. Equipped with her newfound knowledge, Devi felt hopeful that she would now be able to take control over her body and protect her family.

It took some convincing to get her husband to speak to the medical professionals and counsellors Devi was referred to at the training, but once presented with the facts regarding Family Planning, he too came around and supported Devi in her decision.

In 2020 and 2021, through the PROMISES project, funded by the Government of Japan, UNFPA has supported over 100 programmes on sexual and reproductive health and family planning, and worked with 29 youth-friendly health service centres to enhance their access to related information, education and services. The PROMISES project also supported the Family Health Bureau, under the Ministry of Health in ensuring an uninterrupted delivery of Family Planning services through a network of midwives especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the Northern, Western, Southern, Eastern, & Central provinces of Sri Lanka. Through such programmes, women across the country like Pushpa and Devi are gaining new hope with the power to take control over their bodies and choose what’s right for them.

*Names changed to protect privacy