Religion and Reproductive Health in Nigeria


Table of Contents
Chapter One: Introduction
The Problem Stated
What is Reproductive Health? Are the Issues Raised Useful to Religious Groups?

Chapter Two: The Religious Milieu of our Focused Group
Annang Traditional Religion
The Coming of Christianity
Causes of Religious Proliferation

Chapter Three: A Case Analysis of Reproductive Health Situation In Faith-Based Society
Data and Methods
Results 35 nasality information and Promiscuity
Communicating SRH Issues with Pastors

Chapter Four: Effects of Religious beliefs and Practices on Reproductive Health
Culture of Silence
Faith-Based Organizations as Quasi-Hospitals and Faith-Healing Centers
Witchcraft Problems

Chapter Five: Meeting the Challenges of Sexual and Reproductive Health in the 21st Century: Methodology and Implementation Strategy 88 Formal Education
Researching Sexual and Reproductive Health of Members
Developing Intervention Strategies for Sexual and Reproductive Health
Male Involvement in Reproductive Heath Issues
Breaking the culture of Silence about Sexuality
Socio-Economic Conditions
Towards a New Society

Chapter Six: Religion and Reproductive Health: Summary and Reproductive Health
Appendix A: The Questionnaire
Appendix B The Questionnaire for Church Leaders
Appendix C Local Government Ares in Annangland




Central to the practice of religion is man’s search for healing for realignment with a suprahuman ‘Other’ who can rectify human brokenness. Aside from the non-instrumental purpose of religion as worship and reverence to a Supernatural Being, in almost every society, religion has functioned to restore human wholeness, striving for health and healing and sustaining human wellbeing. Not surprisingly, many religious adherents in Africa conceive of health in much the same way as the World Health Organization: a state of mental, social and physical wellbeing. The problem with this definition, however, is that it is idealistic and humanly unrealistic considering that human beings have many needs which curtail their overall “wellbeing” and a state of complete health is impossible to either attain or sustain. Enjoying good health therefore, may appear as the ability to adequately cope with human existential predicaments in such a way that people function to realize their human potentials. Religion assumes a significant role in this understanding because, as a system of coping with life’s many problems, particularly human finitude, it seeks to restore wholeness to human mental, physical, social and spiritual (body, soul and spirit, in Pauline language) dimensions.

The treatment of diseases in most modern health care facilities often ignore the social (read: spiritual) dimension of human wellbeing. A consequence of this neglect, particularly among a people with an enchanted cosmology who believe that the spiritual world affects and controls the physical, is that even after consulting a trained medical professional and taking “treatment”, they also visit a spiritual expert (diviner, spiritualist, medium, traditional healer, prophet/prophetess, pastor, evangelist, etc.) to determine the “spiritual” cause or roots of the physical ailments, for, this is where the true power to restore lasting wholeness and wellbeing resides. These experts who are frequently consulted play important roles in the pathways to health.

This system of thought and practice not only privileges religious professionals who double as health care providers, it also reposes immense power and authority on those who claim to have been “called” given special mission (read: power) to cure, to restore health, to .,oc; the spiritual roots of physical manifestations of diseases and ill-liclalth. The power and authority as well as material wellbeing of religious “experts” have been continuously enhanced with the steady decline in the material and economic wellbeing of Ordinary Nigerians. As increased economic turbulence and collapse of government health care system occasioned sharp rises in the official and unofficial costs of obtaining medial services, religious houses have proliferated uncontrollably, functioning as alternative health care system. Ordinarily, very few persons will express any qualms about this state of affairs. However, as Dr. Anthonia Essien has documented graphic evidence of abuse and harm perpetuated by a system of religious laissez-affair which allows every claimant to divine “expert” knowledge free practice spurred by the profit motive, this state of affairs has brought pain to many people and portends disastrous consequences for people’s health.

In all non-esoteric religious systems, women hays outnumbered men. Coupled with the natural functions of reproduction, women have come to suffer more from a system of unregulated religious practice that assumes the added role of providing healing for all manner of ill-health. A system that makes untaxed profit out of people’s calamities in the name of God deserves serious academic, political and legal scrutiny. Particularly, there must be a way to make religious leaders accountable and responsible for their actions and misplaced attempts at healing, some of which result in deaths and serious bodily injuries. This is just one point Dr. Essien brings to the fore in this exciting book. Perhaps, it is not far fetched to begin considering the establishment of “Religious Consumer Rights Protection Council”, a supervisory body with the responsibility and legal authority to ensure the protection of religious adherents from unfair, deceptive and fraudulent practices by religious leaders and church-owners. Such a body, it is hoped, will ensure a fair competitive environment within the religious marketplace in Nigeria; it should provide enlightenment to the masses regarding their rights as valued religious consumers. Additionally, the government needs to contemplate the relevance of an agency similar to the Charity Commission in the United Kingdom whose responsibility should include monitoring the activities and examining the financial records of all religious organizations accorded tax-except status.

Another equally significant point made by Dr. Essien is that the high social profile of religious experts could actually be a means for dissemination of sexual and reproductive health information to the grassroot. Based on empirical data collected from rural Annangland in southeastern Nigeria, Dr. Essien shows that there is a dearth of credible information on sexual and reproductive health among both religious leaders and their followers or clients alike if religion affects adherents’ cosmology, it inevitably conditions their beliefs and practices pertaining to sexual and reproductive health. Consequently, Essien argues in this book that the culture of silence and similar traditional beliefs and practices (such as witchcraft, ordeal, and sorcery beliefs) need give way to free and open discussion and dissemination of scientifically derived information and knowledge regarding sexual and reproductive health. This point, coming from a religious professional, needs to taken very seriously.

This publication is timely in Nigeria. At a time when churches end other religious organizations are swelling in vitality and mass participation, their leaders could be persuaded to take a more service oriented approach to their clients’ health: empower their followers by mobilizing accurate and credible information on sexual and reproductive health issues and not confine this to the realm of esoteric knowledge. This book is a step toward the quest for complete health: mentally, physically, socially and religiously. As an outcome of original and empirical study, it is highly recommended to the general public whose total wellbeing it canvasses; it is particularly recommended to students and teachers in the field of sociology of health and religion; finally, it is recommended to religious leaders and their followers. The entire society stands to gain in appropriating the lessons in this book.

Dr. phil. Asonzeh F.-K. Ukah
Lehrstuhl fur Religionswissenschaft
Universitat Bayreuth Germany

Prof. Anthonia Maurice Essien

Anthonia M. Essien, HHCJ, is a sociologist of religion and Professor at the University of Uyo, Uyo, Nigeria. She obtained her first degree from the University of Cross River State, and an MA (1992) and a PhD (1997) from the University of lbadan, Nigeria. She has published articles in learned journals in Nigeria and abroad. Her interest in female empowerment led her to the founding of a Non-Government Organisation, Human Empowerment and Development Project (HEMADEP). She is in collaboration, with some international organisations for the promotion of female empowerment in Nigeria. She is widely travelled for academic research and conferences to such countries as United Kingdom, the United States of America, Uganda,: Ethiopia, Belgium, Ghana, South Africa, Republic of Benin, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire and Switzerland. She is from Osurua, lkot Ekpene LGA, Nigeria.
Visit her personal knowledgebase vis to get to know more about her and have open access to majority of her works.

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