The Unequal Responsibility of Birth Control in India

Remember when we would watch TV with our parents, and the ad of Sunny Leone running on the beach, promoting Manforce condoms would come on?

No? You don’t remember? Because that never happened!

Of course, we didn’t talk about contraceptives. The same way we didn’t talk about sex. And here we are, 1.3 billion people and growing…

Why Are We Not Using Contraceptives?

Contraception is widely regarded as the woman’s responsibility because technically, she is the one who will get pregnant. So, it is common to hear young, urban women say, “It is my problem, so I have to look after it myself.” The responsibility can feel empowering, as she takes control of her sex life. And in many ways, it is. It is a privilege that most women in our country do not have.

In rural or more conservative parts of society, women are unaware of the various contraceptive options or how to use them. While the government did launch several family planning initiatives, the programs are mostly geared towards women.

The men, who are usually the ones who make the decisions in such matters, remain ill-informed. In a 2014 study done across seven states in India, 54% of men said that their wives could not use contraception without their permission. It stems from the opinion that contraception is ‘invasive’ and that it promotes promiscuity among women.

In the more liberal sections of the society, while women are allowed a certain level of freedom, men do not participate in preventing pregnancy. According to the National Family Health Survey, 73.3% of married men and 69.4% of unmarried men do not use contraception with their partners.

Not so surprisingly, we did not need a survey to tell us this. I can recount such instances from my personal or friends’ experiences where there is no second thought, because, “It is my problem. And I’ll deal with it.”

But what happens when the men’s inflated ego and the reliance on ‘pulling out’ don’t work, and it leads to accidental pregnancies?

When Contraception Fails

While contraception is seen as a woman’s responsibility, terminating an unplanned pregnancy is not. For unmarried women, the social stigma attached to pre-marital sex or being a single mother places an insurmountable financial, physical, and mental pressure.

It was found that 80% of doctors in six cities declined contraceptive and abortion procedures to unmarried and young women without the consent of their parents or spouses.

On the other hand, married women face pressure from their husbands and their in-laws of committing to their ‘duties as a good wife’, and to bear a child within the first few years of marriage.

This often leads to women resorting to discreet clinical visits or over-the-counter contraceptive or abortion pills that can be extremely harmful to their physical and mental health.

To explain in simple terms.

Just as no one wants any form of accident, no one wants an abortion. What people try to do is prevent it in the best way they can. Whether it’s wearing a helmet or a condom. But preventatives fail, contraceptives fail, and accidents happen. Just as you would not question someone for how they’re treating their accident, you have no right to question their abortion.

So, What Can We Do?

Know Your Options.

A condom is not only an effective way of birth control but also prevents STIs. Except for vasectomy, which is non-reversible, there are no other options for men. The most commonly used options for women, after the condom, are the pill, emergency morning-after pill, IUD, injectables, and the ring.

For more information, check out the video by Vitamin Stree, which also listed several useful resources.

Know Your Rights

Contraception: There is no legal barrier stopping you from purchasing any kind of contraceptive! Some of them will require assistance from a medical professional, but you can purchase condoms and emergency pills without a prescription. Pharmacies can be uncomfortable, and you may be greeted with judgmental stares. But you can always purchase them online instead. Or, if you don’t care, I say, go for it!

Abortion: Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, women are legally allowed to seek an abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy. For up to 12 weeks, the opinion of one medical practitioner is required, and for above 12 weeks, the opinion of two. If you are over 18, you do not require the consent of anyone else. If you are a minor, you will need a parent’s or a guardian’s written consent.

Stealthing: Stealthing is when a person removes the condom during sexual intercourse without the consent of their partner. This is considered assault. While the rape laws in India are very black-and-white, Professor Mrinal Satish, who was involved in the 2013 rape laws amendment, said that stealthing can amount to rape if ‘the consent was conditional on the partner wearing a condom.’

Educate.

If you are a parent of a soon-to-be groom or bride, talk to them about the financial and emotional responsibilities of having a child.

If you are looking for a marriage alliance for your daughter, who is between the ages of 16 to 21, equip them with the right kind of information about consent and contraception. I say this with a bit of personal bias and opinion, as I have seen this in my extended family and our society. Do not place the burden of ‘motherhood’ on them if they do not wish to have children. And stand by them, if they ever choose to go through an abortion.

Communicate.

If you are sexually active, communicate your needs and concerns to your partner. Do not shy away from talking about contraception only because you might make them uncomfortable. Sex involves two people, and so does preventing pregnancy.

Discuss what you are comfortable with, and how you could figure out a way that works for both of you. Besides, you will probably better enjoy the experience if you are not constantly worrying about whether or not he pulled out in time!

In the case of an accidental pregnancy, do not hide it from your partner. He deserves to know, and his reactions and feelings about the news are valid. But ultimately, it is your body, and no one can take that decision away from you.

Governing a woman’s birth control choices means dictating choices that directly affect her work and her life. It is a step back from gender equality, and everything feminism had been fighting for.

A world where women, just as everyone else, have complete autonomy over themselves.

Creative Writer | Sex Talk Sunday Series | Film Enthusiast

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