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NewlyWed website in Nepal promotes family planning before 'I do'

A website called Newlywed offers advice on everything from wedding planning to family planning in an attempt to encourage the use of contraceptives.

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    A bride adjusts her headgear during her wedding in Kathmandu, Nepal.
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Planning a wedding can be hectic in any part of the world. In Nepal, however, one nongovernmental organization wants to add one more important to-do to the list: talk about family planning.

NewlyWed, a website launched by Marie Stopes International, offers advice on everything from wedding planning to family planning, in an attempt to encourage the use of contraceptives, currently used a low rate. By mixing often-neglected health information in with couples' events and the fun of vendor browsing, the organization hopes to promote healthier relationships, women, and families. 

The site offers information on bridal wear, cake shops, DJs, lingerie, travel agents, priests, and even astrologers for the big day and the honeymoon afterward. Beyond that, however, under a tab called "SEXploration," the website also provides information on family planning, sexual health, abortion services, and counseling.

With branches in 43 countries, Marie Stopes International provides sexual and reproductive healthcare to underserved women and families.

"We hope it will be the Yellow Pages for wedding planning, with sex education running through it," Anjana KC, project manager at Marie Stopes Nepal, told The Guardian.

The website creators didn't think people would visit a website dedicated just to family planning, but newlywed.org.np offers a whole package of information. "We didn't think people were going to just go on there to learn," Ms. KC said. "We have lists of vendors for wedding planning and we have information on sex, family planning, pregnancy, abortion, and our services embedded in it."

In Nepal, a quarter of women interested in contraceptives say they can't access them, according to a government report. Unmet needs for family planning are highest in rural areas and among teenage girls, many of whom are married: 41 percent of brides were wed before age 18, according to Girls Not Brides, a partnership of more than 500 organizations against child marriage, and rates may increase as families look for stability after last year's catastrophic earthquake. 

By investing in family planning resources, the government hopes to increase modern contraceptive use from 47 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2020, part of an approximately $154 million plan to bring the birth rate to 2.1 children per woman by 2021. 

Nepal also wants to encourage its citizens to marry at more mature ages. In 2010, the government recently increased the legal age for marriage to 20, or 18 for teens with parental consent, although the rule is often ignored.  

As the government's report notes, encouraging older brides and contraceptives will likely cut costs in an array of sectors, both inside and outside the health sector, from medical treatment to social services, while benefitting the environment and gender equality. 

Amid the commotion of planning a wedding, couples infrequently discuss planning and contraceptives, as Marie Stopes International told The Guardian. When the topics are discussed, inaccurate information is frequently passed along, such as the idea that condoms cause infertility. 

The NewlyWed program, which targets urban couples in particular, hopes that setting accurate information in the context of fun wedding prep events, from dance nights to dessert options, can help promote better communication. 

"We never thought about participating in a program where we would be sharing a great time with each other," one couple testifies on their website. "Till now we were not able to open up with each other. This event has shown us another side of our relationship. There was a communication gap in our relationship. From now onwards, we will communicate with each other. Thank you for getting us closer."

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