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Family Planning: Only a Woman’s Responsibility?

New government measures claim to increase the contraceptive choices given to women, but they still put the responsibility of contraception on women.

Manju and Nandu have been married for 21 years and have three sons, both of them were only 14 when they got married. They are both now aware of the availability of contraceptives and sterilisation facilities but convinced that it should be the woman who undergoes sterilisation.

In India, a negligible 0.3% men undergo sterilisation whereas 36% women undergo the procedure.

In India, a negligible 0.3% men undergo sterilisation whereas 36% women undergo the procedure. The reasons? Nandu believes that men should not undergo sterilisation because they perform “hard” tasks, unlike women who perform “normal” tasks. Manju also thinks that this is true, “As a woman, I do small, odd jobs. But he is the man, what if something happens to him? Who will provide for the family?”

That sterilisation diminishes men’s physical strength and virility is a commonly believed myth, backed by a patriarchal culture that also devalues women’s unpaid labour and contribution in running the household.

“When a child is born, it is the mother who is entrusted with all the child-rearing responsibilities. The father may earn for the family but the mother’s care work and unpaid labour are extremely crucial, and often, take a toll on her”, says Community Correspondent Usha Patel. “Yet, the burden of family planning also falls on women and they often have no option but to undergo sterilisation.”

But how much do women know about sterilisation? Puja and Premchand have been married for three years and are expecting their first child. Puja is barely aware of contraception and sterilisation facilities except the little she learnt after marriage whereas Premchand has learnt about contraception through formal education, society and friends. He now believes that it is best if women undergo sterilisation. “Even if they need more rest than men, the family is there to help them in their work”, he says. Nandu holds a similar opinion.

Usha, however, understands that this is not always true. “Women are primary caregivers, they have as much responsibility as men. But men don’t recognise that. It is very difficult to change such thought.” Savitri, an ASHA worker (community health worker) in the village, adds that the idea that women should be sterilised perpetuates across generations. “If a man has seen his mother and his grandmother undergo the procedure, he will want his wife to do it too.”

Patriarchy places a premium on masculinity and virility, and subjects men to social stigma when they choose to take contraceptive measures.

It is not only in villages and where women are less educated that contraception and family planning are seen as their responsibility. The state also holds similar ideas. Earlier this year, the Health Ministry introduced two new contraceptives to “expand the basket of contraceptive choices to meet the emerging needs of couples.” The contraceptives, however, are only for women, reinforcing the idea that family planning is primarily their responsibility.

Popular culture, starting with contraceptive ads where men’s role ends at pleasure and women bear the brunt of unsafe sex, perpetuates the idea too.

Patriarchy places a premium on masculinity and virility, and subjects men to social stigma when they choose to take contraceptive measures. Usha believes that, at the village level, health workers like ASHAs should be more proactive in spreading awareness about sterilisation and contraception at large. “Their job is not only to provide contraceptive facilities but also to help people make informed decisions”, she says.

Usha now plans to produce a video report on how women are blamed and stigmatised for bearing daughters, another jarring example of patriarchy that she has seen around her.

Video by Community Correspondent Usha Patel

Article by Alankrita Anand, a journalist in the VV editorial team

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