Sexual reproductive health is one of those topics that evoke different intense emotions. Despite the significant impact that it has in people’s lives, discussions around it are quite uncomfortable for many. As a result, getting information is a hassle. The situation gets worse when we look at the policies around it. Family planning, however, receives quite a bit of attention but the practices on the ground depict a society with double standards on the matter.
For a long time, women have suffered in silence when it comes to family planning choices. Modern-day medicine provides an array of contraception methods but when it comes to choosing them the reality is different. A discussion on social media sparked a debate on society and doctor’s attitudes towards female choices of contraception.
In the discussion, a man came out to talk about how he went to see his doctor to sign up for a vasectomy. The doctor explained to him the medical risks and implications of the procedure. However, not once did he ask him if he was sure that he didn’t want more kids or if he even had kids in the first place. The doctor did not stop to ask him why a man who wasn’t even in his 40s wanted a vasectomy. Neither did the doctor ask him if he had discussed it with his partner.
On the contrary, women seeking to have their wombs removed or tubal ligation face extreme scrutiny. Many women have come out to say that OBGYNs are very reluctant to execute their preference. Even though doctors highlight the medical risks of the procedures, the focus is on other issues related to the decision. ‘You will want children in the future’ is a commonly heard phrase for women seeking the procedure. This is regardless of a woman’s personal choice not to have more kids or any kids for that matter.
One woman even confesses to a doctor telling her that despite her husband supporting her decision, the doctor told her that they could divorce and her new husband might want children.
Women are also asked about their partner’s opinion of the subject and approval too. Some doctors ask the woman to have the spouse sign their consent form. Despite it being a woman’s body, the partner’s opinion seems to carry more weight.
For one woman who suffers from endometriosis, she wanted a hysterectomy to help her reduce her suffering. However, her OBGYN refused saying that she would regret it later when she wanted children. Never mind that this woman was looking for something to help her deal with her condition.
Closer home, in some parts of the country, men object to their wives using birth control arguing that it will make them promiscuous. So the women resort to taking birth control pills in secret. These women do not want more children but their husbands’ opinion over the matter seems to have more weight.
These are just but few examples of how society tries to police women’s bodies. The examples might highlight the doctors’ views but they also show a bigger problem in our society. The Form Ni Gani initiative continues to create awareness of contraception and family planning in society. However, when society regulates women and their personal choices for their bodies, what message does that send out? Is family planning okay when the method of choice has to align with either what the husband or church wants and not what the woman is comfortable with? Never mind the significant impact kids have on a woman but when it comes to the family planning decision, she no longer enjoys autonomy.
Perhaps the difference in attitude towards male and female family planning choices stem from the patriarchal notions that have governed society for ages. Or perhaps the misguided notion that every woman wants to have children drives such actions. Also, the idea that in case a woman remarries, having biological kids with the new man is important could fuel the hesitation when it comes to permanent contraceptive methods. However, while everyone is entitled to their opinions, each woman should have the right over her reproductive health.