Recent research in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown that over a quarter of women have an unmet need for family planning and that modern contraceptive use is three times higher among urban than rural women. This study focuses on the reasons behind the choices of married men and women to use contraception or not. What are the barriers that have led to low levels of modern contraceptive use among women and men in DRC rural areas? The research team conducted 24 focus groups among women (non-users of any method, users of traditional methods and users of modern methods) and husbands (of non-users or users of traditional methods) in six health zones of three geographically dispersed provinces. The key barriers that emerged were poor spousal communication, sociocultural norms (especially the husband's role as primary decision-maker and the desire for a large family), fear of side-effects and a lack of knowledge. Despite these barriers, many women in the study indicated that they were open to adopting a modern family planning method in the future. These findings imply that programming must address mutual comprehension and decision-making among rural men and women alike in order to trigger positive changes in behaviour and perceptions relating to contraceptive use.
Keywords: Democratic Republic of Congo; barriers; cultural norms; family planning; family size.