A Matter Of Shame!
Rubina has four daughters! Her husband works in a jewellery shop in the western Indian city of Mumbai. She is often heard lamenting with these words: “We are poor people. As we have four kids, it has become increasingly difficult to run the family.” Against the question ‘Why did your husband not undergo a vasectomy?’, a surprised Rubina replied: “How can you say this… he is a male… he has to work hard… his health condition will deteriorate!!!”
Again, an employee of a state-run bank has showered praises on his wife, saying: “My wife is very progressive. She has undergone a tubectomy.” On the question to him as to why he did not undergo a vasectomy, his indignant reply was: “We, men, have to roam around.”
This is the real picture of the Indian society in the 21st Century! Patriarchy still influences this society, as well as the relations between women and men. Although the Indian Constitution allows Women and Men to enjoy equal rights, men – more than often – enjoy more benefits than women in the South Asian country. While the Indian men enjoy their male selves, the women have to bear all the burden, as they have the God-gifted power to bear a child. Therefore, the responsibility of birth control also lies on them!
Recently, the ‘Two-Child Policy’ of the Government of North-Eastern Indian Province of Assam has exacerbated this conflict. From the World Health Organisation (WHO) to state-run Health Service Centres, all the major institutions promote women-centric birth control methods, such as the use of pills and IUDs. Sterilisation of the women are very much popular in all the developing nations.
India had the Global Community in awe by introducing Family Planning Programme immediately after its Independence (in 1947). Unfortunately, the feminisation of the Programme made it difficult for the Government to achieve its target. As far as sterilisation is concerned, the Government of India had given a top priority to women, without even discussing the issue with them. Again, the Government had done so in order to hide its failure to popularise the use of condoms among men. As per the latest report published by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, only 5.6% men use condoms in India! The Government had also started marking Vasectomy Week to popularise the permanent method of male sterilisation. However, the initiative managed to cover just 0.3% of Indian men!
The Health Ministry Report has further revealed that the ratio of male and female sterilisation is 1:52! While 4,261 men have undergone vasectomy in Assam, 185,733 women have undergone tubectomy in the last five years. Perhaps, the Two-Child Policy will help the Provincial Government to realise why it is important for men to get sterilised. It may ultimately help women in not putting their health, and lives in risk…
Nearly 90% of the educated women discuss family planning-related issues with their husbands in India. However, only 18-20% women make a final decision in this regard! The majority of rural women still like to stay in the belief that sexual activities are the expression of (husband’s) love. It seems that they might not accept the Two-Child Policy. In rural India, the Fertility Awareness depends on the menstrual calendar… the rest is left on women. The rural women have no other option, but to depend on pills in temporary emergency situation. As a result, they also have to deal with the side-effects.
In such a situation, if the Government of Assam tries to implement the Two-Child Policy, the move will certainly increase the number of unwanted and uncontrolled abortion, apart from alienating women from the decision-making process!
Interestingly, Assam is the 12th Indian province to adopt such a policy. The ‘Hum Do, Humara Do’ (‘We Two, Our Two’) campaign had created troubles for eunuchs in other provinces in the past. Those Provincial Governments were also accused of violating Human Rights of the married couples! The Government of Chhattisgarh had to withdraw such Law four years after enforcing it!
The Government of India recently hinted that a large number of women would be brought under the Modern Birth Control Programme (to be adopted) in 2020. The Government has said that Health Department officials will be talking to women in order to get their opinions, as it is important to consider the benefits and needs of them. So, a contradiction, here, seems inevitable…
Firstly, the women might not enjoy the benefits of this particular project. Secondly, they will have to compromise with their health in order to save their husbands’ job! Else, they will have to undergo abortion, forcefully. Such a move will not only make it difficult for women to get jobs in the Public Sector, but will also encourage couples to opt for a Sex Determination Test (SDT) that is banned in India. Furthermore, the number of girl-children will continue to decrease. It seems that the Government may also plan to include abortion to the Modern Birth Control Programme in the coming years. It means the Two-Child Policy will be termed as a curse for the Indian women!
From the WHO to Rubina, everybody is well aware of the fact that the method and application of Birth Control Programme are aimed at women (especially in India and other developing nations). In these countries, people believe that only a child can protect a marriage! In many cases, a woman comes to know from her husband that she has been sterilised only after giving birth to a child. Unfortunately, a majority of the Indian men has no idea that he has no right to make a final decision regarding his wife’s body or health. Therefore, men generally control abortion and pregnancy-related issues.
Currently, the Indian women play a somewhat inactive role in this regard, and the Government Policy will not change the situation. There is a language of physical safety and safe sex life. The issue of pregnancy has a close relation with the rate of women’s education. According to the Health Ministry report, the fertility rate among undergraduate Indian women is 35.2%, while it’s 51.1% among uneducated women! It means that the educated women can make a final decision regarding their pregnancy to some extent. And, it is expected in a civilised society. So, the Government will have to bring men under the Modern Birth Control Programme and to sensitise women about education before implementing the programme.
In Congo and Nigeria, the women do not depend solely on pills. However, women in Libya and Sudan are not aware of their own rights. On the contrary, men prefer to undergo a vasectomy in Canada. In neighbouring US, contraceptive services have still not been included in health insurance policies. In such a situation, the Health Department and the media will have to take a greater responsibility, and to introspect the male attitude to sterilise his wife.
The Government of India should stress on equal responsibility of men and women in birth control before implementing the Two-Child Policy. People follow the rule only if it gains their confidence. In Democracy, the Government has to win people’s trust. Therefore, it is important for the people to trust the policy, first! Else, the Indian Government will make another mistake…
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