#Opinion

Do Women Have The Decision Making Power, When It Comes To Contraception?

Woman Performs Self-Abortion, Forced abortion, miscarriage ,Marriage & Baby Talk Set Feminism Back Shyama, Women Contraception

For women empowerment, access to contraceptives has been an important feminist struggle. A struggle which intended to give women control and choice over their bodies; an ability to regulate their fertility. And this struggle has produced results. However, it does not end here. Rather, there are other important aspects of this struggle. First, the struggle was not only to get the access but get a safe, hygienic access to contraceptives with informed choice. Second, the use of contraceptives to be a source of empowerment. Third, contraceptive usage should involve the choice of women. Absence of any of these aspects, invokes the questions on women’s right and choice over their bodies. It also probes the question of women’s reproductive rights.

Further, considering the context of Indian society; a traditional society, an unequal relationship between men and women is not an unknown phenomenon. Rather gendered inequalities have often been the foundation of such conventional societies. In such societies, men’s regulation of women’s fertility has been a pivotal cause of women’s lack of control and choice over their bodies. As it is the men, be it the husband; the live-in partner; or the man with which the woman is in a relationship, who controls her sexuality and fertility.

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Often, such control is exercised in the form of men deciding who should be taking precautions to avoid situations of unwanted pregnancies. And sometimes, to have sexual pleasure, such responsibility is enforced upon women. The often given argument is, it is women who are at the risk of pregnancy, so she should be the one taking all precautions, and it lacks the involvement of her choice. The question is do women really want to take single-handed responsibility of avoiding the stress of unwanted pregnancies? Not all women’s bodies are contraceptive friendly, many suffer side effects such as headache, back pain, heavy bleeding, weight gain and so on. The point is do women not want to have the right to safe sex? Is it only the woman’s responsibility to keep herself safe? Does the man not have any such responsibility?

To have sexual freedom, contraceptive is a pivotal requirement. But the question arose who is taking it? If we see the advertisements of the morning-after pills which provide relief in situations of unsafe sexual encounters, it reflects, women in distress and worried about undesired pregnancy. If such is the scenario, then how can we say, women are having sexual liberation? Besides this, the number of advertisements on YouTube, television, internet, magazines, or any other source, the emphasis and promotion of women’s contraceptives is always more.

The question then is why is the focus on women? To say women now can protect themselves from undesired situations, does not allow men to be freed from such responsibilities. The point is why not both men and women take equal responsibility in avoiding unwanted pregnancies? Or in keeping each other safe from sexual diseases.

Moreover, what is disturbing is, why women are in distress of unsafe sex? Why not men? Is it only a woman’s responsibility or destiny to keep worrying about undesired pregnancy or figuring out emergency medicine to avoid the outcome of an unsafe sexual encounter? Advertisement and many other sources of contraceptive promotions reflect the exclusion of men from such distress and responsibilities.

Consequently, it places all the burdens on women; stating unwanted and undesired pregnancies are the concern of women, and not men. These advertisements, hoardings, magazines, etc., are the reflection of our society’s gendered inequalities. They show what it is acceptable, what is taken; women should take care of men’s pleasure, irrespective of her own concerns. Gendered perception puts a woman’s life in a question mark.

Further, if women are afraid of unsafe situations and had to worry after such unsafe encounters, then why would they engage in an unsafe sexual encounter? Possibly not out of their desire. Or because of resistance of men, reflecting gendered socialisation which stressed men’s right over their women’s body; be it a girlfriend or a wife. Women’s inculcation of gendered norms often made them act in a way that they do not oppose such resistance.

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Women need to acknowledge that they need to struggle for challenging their subordination. Furthermore, if women cannot say NO to unsafe sex, and had to depend on contraceptives to save themselves from such restrains on NO, then it is not bringing any empowerment for women, because then men are controlling women’s bodies and not women. It is only when women will enjoy access to safe contraceptive, will be in a position to use it as per their choice, and when they will be able to say NO to an unsafe sexual encounter, then only women will be able to enjoy their reproductive rights and sexual liberation.

Dr Ramneet Kaur, and this paper is the outcome of efforts and contributions of Pinky and is a tribute to her. This is to clear that paper does not target or focus or criticise any particular medicines, contraceptives, or brand name/label/company/person/anything/anyone. It is a general paper discussing the issues faced by women and their struggles, and not attacking on any label, brand, medicines, or company, or anyone.

The views expressed are the author’s own and not that of SheThePeople.