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Women, Contraception & Issues of Access-Usage-Rights

Posted: January 21, 2014

She was all of 22 year old. Four daughters already, two abortions done, I thought I should ask her how it felt to have been pregnant literally all the time since she had been married off. But before I could, her tear-filled eyes looked at me, her lips tried to (fake a) smile, and she said, “This is what women are born for after all. Isn’t it?” I had no answer.

It wasn’t literally that I had none. Somehow I could have used all my textbook based knowledge and my dose of empathy to make her understand that she was worth more than that. That she was powerful. That she was more than a baby-producing machine. That she had rights. But suddenly at that moment, I was completely numb. I had nothing to say. I realized how every system, every policy, every initiative, every organization had failed at that very moment for me.

Do I sound a little hopeless? I had to be. I had no other choice that moment. This issue was more complicated than it looked. What were the problems? Was it Patriarchy and Women’s Status? Or was it access to contraception? Decision making? Or Maternal Health Care? Male-heir desperation? What was it?

On my way back, her strong words kept on resonating in my mind and all I could feel was a sudden rush, an uncontrollable feeling of hatred towards society. People call me emotional with respect to my work. They say I should be more practical. But wasn’t the first reason I joined such a work force that I wanted my emotions to become a passion? I had a hundred thoughts and as the sun started setting, the cold breeze seemed to hit me harder than it usually did.

Issues of Family Planning go way beyond the number of babies. It encompasses the awareness of contraception, rights to make that choice on using one, it entails the issues of maternal and child care, it entails patriarchy and control over bodies, it involves issues of infection, HIV and Violence Against Women. It’s much more than contraception and incentives to get vasectomy or birth control. While the whole system in the country is working towards making people have  control over the production of babies, the lack of empathy has resulted in a flawed policy system where what we have reached today is a point on which we as citizens and humans are better off killing female fetuses and ignoring maternal health.

The fact remains that while an educated strong working urban woman is moving towards using contraception for her own sake, in an average Indian household (let’s not even discuss rural here) a woman still struggles to discuss contraceptive measures to be used by males. She will pop an i-pill or hormonal contraceptive pill rather than ask her husband to use condoms. Condoms have male ego attached to them.

So, when I asked that woman from a very economically progressive yet patriarchal town of a very rich state in India about her view on condoms and birth control, the blank look on her face made me wonder where we are all going wrong, in our struggle to make the country control the over-production of babies.

Questions remain: Will a woman show that she knows her contraceptives well? Will she tell her male counterparts that she is bothered about her health and so should he be? Will she go ahead and buy condoms for him to use? Will she be respected for her interest in use of condoms for birth control and also infections? Will a man value his partner’s opinion on contraception, let her choose what she wants rather than ego-stabbing his opinions on her? Will Contraception become more than a man’s decision and a choice that both take together? The point is that while men on the one hand expect to rule the woman, force her to do what he wants in bed, expecting an average Indian man to make balanced choices keeping his female counterpart in mind is going a little too far right now.

All this takes me back to my Physiology lessons where we did a project on Contraception in my B.Sc days and we explored the various methods and means, did we understand the theory and practicality to use them? The issues of negotiating, of decision making and of rights vs access are something that still remain untaught to women and men out there. Indians don’t appreciate talking about bedrooms publicly but somewhere the urgent need of the hour is to start talking about things as crucial as contraception, sex education, menstruation and pregnancy-childbirth-menopause.

Her eyes still haunt me when I see women like her around. And till date, I don’t have any answer to give to any woman who comes and asks me what to do to stop her husband from asking her to pull out baby boys from her uterus. I can never forget those eyes. Not until I find an answer, a solution.

Pic credit: DFID (Used under a Creative Commons license)

A Development Communication & Social Work professional working in the field of gender, health and

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  1. Better late than never -

    Beautiful and heartbreaking.

  2. Suchi, i am at a loss of words to explain how touching this post is!

    Not just rural women, even the educated, urban families don’t talk about these crucial issues…as soon as a couple gets married, people expect a “son” to pop out within a year..even if the couple wishes to delay pregnancy, they are subjected to taunts…there are a few cases of couples standing firm against their families but the majority have no such privileges..

    I also know a newly married couple who feel there is something wrong with them and have resorted to wearing lucky stones, visiting temples, getting fish tanks as per vaastu etc, as they couldnt conceive within a year of marriage!

    • Sri, I am an unmarried woman who has seen hundreds of such women in the many field visits I have done as a part of work. I have made it very clear that before I marry I need to make it clear that few things like these are of high importance to me. Those deep sad eyes still haunt me.. and I am not exaggerating. The issue with the women around is that people like us who have the best of resources and education suffer too, so imagine about the ones who don’t have a way out at all.

      Its so sad that at times I question the very purpose of my work, where if I can’t do anything for that woman, what will I do ever.. To be honest, its us who have to take the charge in our hands.

  3. Suchi, As I read your lines, I felt a similar connect to this lady you have written about. I have a beautiful daughter, and am pregnant with my next baby. There is so much pressure on me from my in-laws (not my husband) that a son is born that it is unbelievable. I being an educated modern woman have to face such a situation shows the condition and mentality of even our so called progressive society. I truly hope that I have another beautiful baby girl. Your article is really well written and strikes a very close chord in my heart.

    • Dear Rhiti
      I can only imagine the trouble. We are three daughters and my mother had faced a similar issue with my grandparents while my father supported. I hope you have a healthy baby, boy or girl doesn’t matter as far as you are happy. Isn’t it?

  4. The article takes me back to my own initial married period when my highly educated ex-husband (who has a Masters in Engineering from IIT) was more eager to fulfill his family’s “assignment” of getting a kid out of me as soon as possible than giving me a chance to know him better and establish a rapport between ourselves. Inspite of my being educated, aware and a working woman, I was treated as nothing better than a baby producing machine who can than be forced to stay at her in-laws place in a remote village for the sake of her children. If this is what happened to a world wise, urban woman like me, then I can imagine the helplessness of this 22 year old.
    I do not know anymore if education really is the answer!!!

    • Education is Shonali much deeper than sensitivity. I think the system has failed (and when I say system I say family, society and education) to make us better humans first. IIT or IIM or uneducated, issues like these are much deeper and cannot be solved by merely educating girls and boys. I know this because I witness around most feudal and patriarchal mindsets amongst most educated girls and boys. For instance, a friend asked me if I am worried that a guy won’t marry me if I write on such issues. To me, that very moment I realized how issues like these are skin deep, irrespective of class-caste-education-gender-income. I am not worried about writing on such issues, because I am living them along with these women I meet every time. I m more worried about meeting such educated girls and boys, which seems to be the majority our nation is producing.

  5. I remember since my childhood, in doordarshan channel they used to talk about men’ contraceptive methods. I believed due to my innocence that if the opportunity is provided, then men will utilise it. Later,as part of my college project, I met some women (from slums), whose husbands used to beat them and force them into sex and the women used to either have frequent abortions, miscarriages or pregnancies. When I asked these women, whether the men do not use contraceptive measures, they all laughed mockingly at me. I realised that we can show ads about ‘smoking and drinking is injurious to health’, ‘a happy man in a family makes his wife happy by using the government introduced measures,etc’. Yes these are in ads, on the screen. Not in reality!
    All the mothers of sons (especially), should take an oath that they should talk to them about the responsibility of bringing a child into the world…it is the responsibility of both the man and the woman and not the latter alone.
    Remember our movies have shown men making women pregnant and vanishes from the screen. 20 yrs later, this woman will struggle by sewing and working hard, to bring up this kid (sorry son – the hero). When the mother meets the now rich father of the hero, she will cry and tell the hero ..”look he is your father, my Lord, get his blessings”. Wow..what emotions and sentiments. He truly is a God, who disappeared; and this stupid woman has been taking pains to bring the child all alone and on top of this calls the man – ‘god’. (Note: directorial touch given by all male directors. They wanted women to do this and thats what they showed in the movies). So, our men all filled with such crap since time immemorial. There is a scene in the movie ‘Pa’, where the mother (Vidya Balan) tells father (Abhishek Bachchan) – “Just by giving your ——– sperm, you do not become a father”. At least things are changing a little slowly..

    1.) it is high time women tell the men that they are equally responsible for the life they are bringing in, which includes caring as much as the mother does. If this assurance is not given, then women should start using her own contraceptive methods, even without the husband’s knowledge, if possible.
    2.) We should stop bringing up sons, as if they are some bank deposits which will reap rich interest later. Bring them with love and no other expectation. At least the next generation will try to stop craving for sons, once they know that both sons and daughters can have no dependency on them.
    3.) Let us plan for our old age, so that both our daughter and sons can support us,if needed, and we will also not depend entirely on them.
    4.) We should assert ourselves to our in-laws, not fearing the ‘bad name’ we may get out of it. Believe me, I did it, got a bad name – ‘arrogant, headstrong because she is educated and all such crap’. But i told my in-law that it is my health which comes as priority and she is not going to take care of me if my health deteriorates. Hence told her not to interfere. Though she did not expect it, at least from then on she did not pester me to visit temples, or say special prayers for getting a male child (which i did not want). Also told her, ‘You have got one (my husband), and it is my turn to decide which kid I want to bring up’.
    When we try to bring change no one is going to honour us with medals or crowns. But if we know what we are doing is correct, then keep faith in God and do it. Our children will benefit out of it.
    Thanks and wishes.

  6. Dear Suchi….it was a real drowning experience reading this post of yours…..drowning in tears. Its true that India is a society belonging to men…and its hard to find a solution to it. High or low…. men think they are born and granted the status to do anything and everything by God himself….. I myself have been thru a lot in my recent past….all agian cz of a Man Dominated Society….we need to work for ourselves rather than seeking help from others.

  7. Extremely well put up article hitting right at the core of the problem. You have very appropriately connected the male ego with condoms. And also its not just a bedroom topic. it needs to be a very very public topic of discussion as it is directly related to emotional and physical stress a woman has to go through in Indian society, yet its ignored as if its not a “real” issue. I really appreciate you for bringing out such topic in the light.

  8. I am amazed that males of our society are largely insensitive. Perhaps pre-marriage counselling has a role to play, with discussions on contraception where vasectomy is highlighted as option No 1 for completing the family.

    • Swarna
      Absolutely right. Pre Marriage counseling services should take a better role. Also, family should play that first step in right counseling (right! to be stressed).
      Its crucial that we focus on both rural and urban areas. similar root different results and issues concerned.

  9. It is high time we stopped celebrating births ! I know ,I am sounding idiotic & yet many seem to believe that more kids( more boys ) means more hands to work & bring home the money …they forget that more kids also means so many more to feed while they grow up & even later !

    • i agree 100% with you. We need to stop putting across that the first purpose of women existence is child bearing. And yes, more hands-more mouth has to be passé now cz its over rated and has only lead to a burden on the economy the govt is dealing with and not the parents.

  10. I agree with this. Being an educated urban woman, having 2 girls, I am being forced for having a 3rd one, in the hope that it will be a boy. Can anyone guarantee that? What about the population? Do we have no responsibility except to keep producing babies? Is marriage done only to have babies? I am sick of such marriage and such opinions!

    • I can understand your troubles Shalini. Its sad that we have people around who think that producing babies is all what women are born for. and when i say babies, I know they mean BOY! sadly, the patriarchal structures around make it too tough for a woman to function. Standing ones ground is important 🙂 I hope you stay strong!

    • Hi Shalini,you have to stay strong!Never give up.It is very unfortunate that an educated man does this with you!Why they can’t understand that we are human?We also have a wish?It depends on men that he produce X or Y chromosome.If he produce X then,it gets paired with a X chromosome by women and results into a girl.If he produces Y then it results in a boy.Women always produces same type of chromosome that is X.So women are never responsible for giving birth a girl.That’s the science.I can’t understand why they can’t understand this!Or they doesn’t want to understand this.Whatever,never forget to tell him what you want,what your wish.You have to!Best wishes!

  11. Hi Suchi,so nice write up!Your post is so touching that it makes real picture of how cruel the men dominated society is in rural areas.How many Indian women are so helpless till now.But they have to speak out.They have to protest.They have to yell at her husband what she wants.Maybe it can help them only.They have to fight for them!

    • Patriarchy, Anwesa has much more to do with just men. Women are more cruel to fellow women around than men. The issue is that women raise their male children and while they do that, they forget to teach them how to become more human. These women are mothers, grandmothers and mothers-in-laws. I don’t say that its same everywhere, but we have to stand for ourselves and for our fellow women.

  12. Rameez Makhdoomi -

    I have read so many books as journalists but this piece is worth billion dollars.Where is the salute button .I Salute charismatic persona of Suchi Gaur and proudly call myself her fan.

  13. Excellent post. I feel it is taboo in terms of the whole communication aspect – contraception = sexuality, therefore it is not discussed. Sex education would greatly improve this, and also parents talking to their kids about sex without embarrassment. One needs to be in control of one’s own body.

    • I completely agree with you! Sex education being a taboo, women and men both remain unaware of their body and their responsibilities towards each other.

  14. Pingback: Breaking The Culture of Silence in India!

  15. Excellent read!
    I am a married since 4 years and I do not have a baby yet, by choice. Every one around me are making babies are all are unplanned accidental babies. I do not understand how in 21st century you can give birth unplanned babies for the future of this society. Moreover, there is no financial planning about the baby’s future, I feel this is very important today. I have seen that the the 2 yr girl does not go to play school because her baby brother is still very small!! I feel a pinch in my heart as to where do we stand at this point of time?!

  16. Sometimes even the doctors do not help this cause. I went to a doctor and she kept insisting that I take birth control pills or have a copper T insert. She kept saying that we are too young to be using condoms!!! If this is the kind of education that a doctor gives, then what can we expect from society? And this is not even in India (though the doctor was Indian)

  17. Do you have detail article about contraceptive methods for men and women?

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