Women should be able to use contraceptives without fear of abuse
Surprise, surprise, the issue of contraception is rooted in sexism, inequality, and the patriarchy
Oct 9, 2018
On Sept. 26, the Philippines took part in World Contraception Day for the first time, holding talks and a forum on family planning at the GT Toyota Asian Center in UP Diliman. The 11-year old celebration is part of the global campaign Your Life, an awareness campaign on contraception and reproductive health backed in part by Bayer. The campaign’s long-term goal is to make sure that all pregnancies everywhere are planned, urging people everywhere to take charge of their lives.
“41% of pregnancies are unplanned, and almost half are the result of contraceptive failure, improper handling [of the contraceptives], and lack of education. This has a consequential impact on women’s lives,” says Claus Zieler, Bayer senior vice president. Being so, the efforts of the campaign is to ensure that “women are empowered to have the services that they need,” says Dr. Juan Antonio Perez III, executive director of the Commission on Population.
It’s a nice enough goal, but as the speakers at the event pointed out, in order to get to that point, Filipinos will have to do a whole lot of fixing of the society.
Contraception, especially in the Philippines, is an intersectional issue.
When talking about contraception, it’s tempting to conjure up the image of the progressive, independent Filipina. She’s privileged, she has it all together, and because she’s smart, she should start using contraception. She has a choice. But that’s not who the conversation should center on. As Dr. Bernadette Bordador, head of the Valenzuela Population Management Office, points out, poverty, inequality, and sexism is deeply tied to reasons why people don’t use contraceptives. The real face of the Filipino woman deeply in need of contraception is a woman in dire straights, trapped in a context that won’t give her full access to contraceptives. Contraception shouldn’t just be framed as a matter of choice (which we see often) because so many women aren’t afforded that choice.
When we go to the margins, we see women too scared to try out contraception—not because of what it will do to their bodies, but because of what their partners will do to them. “One of the biggest deterrents to use of contraceptives is violence against women (VAW),” says Roots of Health executive director Amina Evangelista Swanepoel. Injectable contraceptives are 94% effective at preventing pregnancies, while implants are 99.95% effective. However, many women are dissuaded from these because their partners will abuse them, call them whores, accuse them of cheating or wanting to leave them for taking them.
Of course, these partners are also the same ones who leave (or at least, cheat and be emotionally unavailable) once a baby is pushed into this world.
Equally concerning is the idea that contraception is just a woman’s issue. Men tend to take a passive role when it comes to family planning, and the burden falls onto their female partners. A lot of men are ignorant about the steps that they can take to prevent pregnancies (male sterilization is 99.8% effective, as opposed to female sterilization, which is at 99.5%). And even when they do, the language used is different. When people talk about contraception as it pertains to women, people talk about it from the context of responsibility. When it’s men, it’s bravery and/or strength. Toxic masculinity, ahoy.
What should be done?
Simply put, the Filipino people are ignorant when it comes to sex education. Many Filipinos don’t even know the different types of contraceptives, and are misinformed about the ones that they do know about. A lot of the misconceptions about contraceptives can be eradicated by just having a good sex ed program in all schools. Reproductive health and contraceptive use should be normalized, and the youth should be empowered to choose these.
Aside from that, there needs to be better access to reproductive health all across the country. NGOs and health centers that actually deal with the people should be given more support, as they are the ones who understand what the people really need. “By engaging the people on the ground, we see a clearer picture of reproductive health, or lack of it, in the country,” says Perez.
Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash.
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