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Recently, I have been coming across news articles that discuss (with much figurative hand-wringing), the casual use of emergency contraceptives and abortion pills by young women. No doubt, serious health effects can arise due to the improper use of such pills for regular contraception – they are to be used very sparingly.
Many of the articles however mistakenly cite easy access to the pills as the reason for their too-frequent usage. Over the counter availability at the neighbourhood pharmacy may indeed help women buy them more easily, but that is not the fundamental reason for their misuse.
The fundamental reason is the abysmal quality of sex education in India. Most schools in India shy away from including a separate sex education module, even for older students from class 9-12 who are likely to be getting a good deal of information anyway (some of it wrong) from many sources. Forget a separate module on sex education – I remember my biology teacher breezing through the chapter on the human reproductive system, and actively discouraging questions. When this was the situation in a middle-class, urban school, can you imagine the level of sex education given out at poorer or rural schools with fewer resources?
No wonder, many women (and men) have a poor understanding of how fertilization actually occurs, what happens to the ovum at different stages and the impact of casual pill-popping on a woman’s body. Men may also feel little need to take responsibility since they do not bear the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.
Nor can single women in India quite easily get the advice they need from gynaecologists. I first visited a gynaec when I was around 22 years old and single – and not for anything related to sex or reproduction. In the doctor’s waiting room, the nurse asked me loudly, “Single or Married?” and then gave me a long look when I said single. I slunk back to my seat, embarassed at the roomful of people looking at me.
Mind, I was living by myself, away from home, in a big city – and did not have to worry about whether I would meet someone I knew at the hospital or take anyone’s permission to see the doctor. How many young Indian women living at home or in small towns will feel comfortable visiting a gynaec?
The answer to getting people to use contraception in a more responsible manner is to give both young boys and girls proper sex education that includes information on respecting their bodies and of the nuts and bolts of sex, conception and contraception.
Schools hide this information fearing that “children will be spoilt” but the reality is that young people will continue to experiment regardless of what schools tell them. If easy access to pills is curtailed, people will find other ways to get them. More information is the answer, not less.
Founder & Chief Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas
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