Dispelling Family Planning Myths with Giant Puppets

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Marie Stopes Uganda's giant puppets are helping spread the word about family planning.

Marie Stopes Uganda’s giant puppets are helping spread the word about family planning.

The drive to increase access to family planning in Uganda is gaining pace. In 1989, only one in 20 women in the country was using modern contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy. Today, just one generation later, that figure is almost one in three. But Ugandan women still face barriers. Unsubstantiated fears, stigma, and myths are leading many women to forgo contraception altogether.

Marie Stopes Uganda (MSU), which provides a wide range of short-term, long-term, and permanent contraceptive methods across the country, has been trying to increase awareness to large groups by broadcasting messages and information over loud speakers from mobile vans. But over time, the vans became such a common feature that many people simply ignore them and continue their daily routines without so much as looking up.

The team realised they needed something new to create a greater impact. But what would capture people’s attention?

The answer came from a satirical puppetry programme called The Si Mimi Show, which uses puppets and humour to tackle serious political issues. Hoping puppets would work as effectively for them, Marie MSU enlisted some larger-than-life help to break down the barriers and raise awareness of the facts around contraception.

Ten feet tall with enormous heads, the giant puppets are now helping to draw crowds of interested onlookers to MSU’s Family Health Promotion Days, attracting everyone irrespective of age, social status, religious beliefs, or political affiliation.

The puppets, who represent a mother and father figure, entertain an audience of around 150 people for three to four minutes while a master of ceremonies provides an amusing but educational commentary. At the end of the show, the MSU team swoops into action to raise awareness about the benefits of family planning.

Two police officers pose with the puppets.Zoom

Two police officers pose with the puppets.

To guarantee results, at least six community-based distributors and SRH youth ambassadors trained by Marie Stopes are always part of the event, providing one-on-one counselling as well as registering potential clients, who will receive texts informing them about contraception.

The puppet shows have been conducted in 12 districts and have proven to be a remarkably effective tool in gathering crowds. The team has even noticed women stopping work and leaving their stalls to watch and film the show on their phones. It is also a fun, engaging way to discuss family planning that has led to an immediate increase in family planning clients and couple years of protection (CYPs).

In Mbarara in western Uganda and Gulu and Lira in northern Uganda, Marie Stopes centres achieved half of their total monthly target in just three days, as well as seeing an increase in income, new clients, and helpline calls during the same period. In Kabale district in the Western region of Uganda, our centre achieved its entire monthly target of 360 CYPs in just three days.

In fact, the puppets have proven so successful that they are now one of Marie Stopes Uganda’s key demand generation strategies that will continue into 2018 and beyond. The team is not resting on its laurels, though—we will be maximising impact by monitoring how the results vary over a longer period of time and focusing greater attention on one-on-one counselling, in addition to general community sensitisation.

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