When will “Men” be the torch bearers of birth control in India?
On World Contraception Day, 26th September 2019, Deepshika Chhetri, a Youth Accountability Advocate with Restless Development India and a public health nutritionist based in New Delhi shares her thoughts on this topic.
I am not here to share my views on why contraceptives are important, the importance of sex education in schools or how the media fantasies the use of contraceptives. What I am here to talk about is the women who have multiple pregnancies they have no say in whatsoever; women who are unable to do anything about it.
In the last few years, there has been great progress in India in terms of raising awareness of different contraceptives and the Government has also taken several steps to improve accessibility to contraceptive products. However, a study has estimated that out of the total 48.1 million pregnancies in India in 2015, about half were unintended—meaning they were wanted later or not at all.
From my experiences of working in rural areas of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra, along with having little access to contraceptives, what is most concerning is that the majority of women do not have decision making control over contraceptive use and therefore end up having unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. There is a lack of education around sexual and reproductive health, especially awareness of different types of birth control and their effect on our bodies, that urgently needs to be addressed.
There is also severe stigma when it comes to discussing birth control with men! And yet I have found that we always target women with our programmes! Any programme that you pick up designed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare or Women and Child Development, focuses on women and the interventions designed are all aimed at women. The question I ask is why is it always women? Why are they the only ones targeted to achieve success? Where is the role of men in this? When will the government develop intensive programs targeting men in our society?
In rural areas you will find, frontline workers (ANM/ASHA/AWW) educating women about family planning, care during pregnancy, different contraceptive methods and how they can access it from health centres. But in a patriarchal society which is full of male domination, stereotypes, taboos, and myths, I ask myself – is it that easy for women to get basic contraceptives like condoms and ensure their usage? The Government may be providing condoms free of charge in clinics but primary health centres only cover a population of approximately 30,000 people, leaving those who live in rural villages with poor access to these services.
I have interviewed many women on their use of contraceptives. One of the women I interviewed was very poor and had had multiple children she could not afford but in spite of this she was pregnant again. She had no control over her family planning. This pregnancy was not planned as she only has access to contraceptives like condoms when her husband chooses to use them. Studies have shown that many men in India are like her husband, in charge of their households but also reluctant to buy and use contraceptives.
We as advocates, activists and social workers aim to greater awareness of this issue and we push to provide access for all. Many women in urban areas are openly and freely accessing contraceptives of their choice. This is great but we are forgetting women in rural communities who are unable to raise their voices and often even discuss contraceptive use with their husbands. Women I have met through my work often prefer to take an oral-pill rather than ask their husbands to use contraceptives like condoms. It begs the question: when will the “man” of the house finally take ownership towards safe sex and planned pregnancies?
In India, the issue of birth control goes beyond access to contraceptives. It encompasses the issue of men starting to make informed choices and be proactive partners when it comes to using contraceptives. It is important that men start placing equal value on their partner’s opinion on contraception and family planning. The use of contraception should not only be a man’s decision but a choice both women and men take together, as partners.
Men in India still remain fairly uneducated about sharing contraceptive decision making with their partners. And while a lot of women don’t like talking about contraception and family planning publicly, we need to start talking about it and a lot more loudly too. Public policy bodies must develop programmes that educate and raise awareness but also create a male-led nationwide movement on birth control to curb this issue at its root.
ANM: Auxillary Nurse Midwife
ASHA: Accredited Social Health Activist
AWW: Anganwadi Worker