Birth control as we know it is a method, medicine or tool to prevent pregnancy. Different procedures to practice birth control are available for all genders. In India however, women carry the burden. A study found that only 2.3% of men practice birth control against their counterparts at 97.7%.
Women are more than often told that sex and its consequence are their responsibility. We as a society look at sex as the patriarchal duty of a wife towards her husband. More than often, it is the husband’s decision on the women’s body especially in the rural areas. Not only is she denied her bodily autonomy but, she also has to bear the costs and side effects. This violates the women’s reproductive rights and health.
The History Of Contraception In India
The earliest mention of contraception was in Atharvaveda (200 B.C). This promoted the practice of using talismans, herbs, mantras and even fumigation of the genital tract as contraception. Most of these methods were for women and they had control over this decision.
In the newly independent era, we often blame women for producing unfit and tainted decedents. During the independence movement it was mostly men as the reforming agents of the nation. Therefore, women’s rights activists found it difficult to express their opinions on contraception and sexual rights. And when they did the fear was that feminist politics will deviate away from the attention from nationalist politics.
Even among the few advocates of birth control, all leading ones were elite males. They took a top-down approach to teach only women about irresponsible breeding. This also had a classist touch; overpopulation was not the problem but having more people of the working class were. Working class were often quoted as “unfit”. Therefore, creating an intersection of classism and sexism. It is to no surprise that even women nationalists echoed the same opinion as their male counterparts.
Therefore, even when India thought of overpopulation as a problem, they targeted the women of the lower class. This was never about women’s bodily autonomy rather the elites trying to manage the country’s fertility through women.
Why Are Only Women Responsible?
Birth control is only for women stems from two patriarchal stigmas. First, women can’t have sex for pleasure and second that women always want children. As interconnected as they are they both have very different consequences. Contraception is one of the hush-hush topics that Indian parents never talk about. When they do it is the women’s responsibility to not get pregnant.
We feel if a woman chooses to have sex for just pleasure it’s uncultured. For instance, according to the 2016 National Health Survey, 20% thought that women will become promiscuous if they use a condom. The idea that a woman could want more from sex than children is still obscure in India. Here, sex is a duty that the woman has towards her husband and shall bear its consequences.
Having children is so deeply tied with womanhood that it often denies women the right to choose. Rather than being a choice, it is an expectation from all women. So, when a woman chooses not to have children and use contraception it is seen as unnatural. Who does the primary responsibility of children fall on? Women! Thereby, many men are non-participative in the process of abortion or even having a baby.
Even when the man is gender-sensitive towards conception other factors such as access to health workers and medical stores might play a role. Ultimately women bear the brunt of it all. Not just financially but socially women have expectations to fulfill. Married or unmarried, we usually expect women to carry the burdens of sexual intercourse. Especially if it results in an unintended pregnancy. Abortion or the prospect of being a single mother brings stress and expense on the women. Moreover, if unmarried all prospects bring social backlash.
While India has made progress with population control, it has also been patriarchal. We burden women with not only the responsibility of contraception but also unintended pregnancies. This rather than giving the autonomy takes away the existing rights from her pockets.
However, research has shown that couples who are open about conversations around contraception lead to equitable marriages and better parenting. This further leads to more happy outcomes from the union.
Moreover, control over contraception and its methods lead to opening more opportunists for women. Increasing women’s contribution in the labour force, more education and financial independence. This change will only come when we open conversations with our partners and in our families. A change so small can affect the future towards a society where women are as valued as men.
About The Author
Aditi Bhardwaj is a Law student interested in feminist studies. She enjoys blogging.
Other articles by Aditi: Is Uniform Civil Code A Path To Gender Justice?
Image Credit:Quartz India