Meet the door-to-door family planning salespeople of Nigeria

A Nigerian woman in a blue hijab printed with the words "child spacing saves lives" holds a blue box labeled "choice kit," in the courtyard of a house with green walls

Aishatu Abdullahi at work, via the CSM

Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Ryan Lenora Brown (who’s quickly turning into one of my favorite journalists) has a fantastic piece on alternative delivery mechanisms for birth control in northern Nigeria.

In another time, in a different place, [Aishatu Abdullahi] might have been an Avon Lady, unzipping her bag to reveal tiny samples of lotions and lipsticks to neighborhood homemakers. But in northern Nigeria, in 2019, her powers of persuasion are directed toward unloading a very different kind of product.

“There are condoms, there are pills, there are implants, there is a shot,” she says cheerily, unsnapping a box of samples to show two potential customers. “It all depends on the type of method you’re looking for.”

Mrs. Abdullahi is part of a team of door-to-door contraceptive saleswomen hired by the family-planning charity Marie Stopes International to bring birth control to women here who can’t – or won’t – get it elsewhere.

The program is sensitive to local cultural norms and gendered power relations as well.

[Abdullahi has] learned to hustle her products at the few public events that bring women together, like weddings and baby-naming ceremonies, where she often sidles up to women she doesn’t know and asks them, quietly, if they know about child spacing.

That’s the way she phrases it, she says, because the idea isn’t to wag a finger at women who want big families. Abdullahi herself has seven kids, and says her only goal is to give women control over when they get pregnant.

That choice has proved powerful. Local women now pass her number furtively among themselves, so that Abdullahi’s phone is constantly lighting up with unknown numbers. Can you come to my house tonight? Can I have it done at your place? I can’t pay, can you help?

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