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Updated: February 22, 2013 17:36 IST

Choices beyond reach

Aarti Dhar
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Rights denied: Most women are unaware of the range of contraception. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
The Hindu
Rights denied: Most women are unaware of the range of contraception. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Women in Haryana face palpable social and cultural barriers to contraceptive services and information, reveals a study

More than half the women in Haryana have never used contraceptives and only a small percentage of married women are aware of modern methods of contraception like copper T, condoms and pills, a recent survey has revealed. 

Over 52 per cent of married women never received any counselling about contraception at government hospitals while those who were told about contraception, received information about copper T or sterilisation mainly in the HIV/AIDS counselling rooms of hospitals.

 A study on ‘Need for Deeper Understanding of the States Obligation to ensure the Right to Contraceptive Services and Information’ conducted by The Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology, Jindal Global Law School, has revealed the Haryana government’s policy-push for sterilisation, over temporary spacing methods and emphasise on population control over a rights-based approach. The range of contraceptive services and information available to women is limited as ASHA workers are unavailable and inaccessible in some villages which is largely due to the hostile conditions in which they work. The pharmacies sell contraceptives which are past the expiration date and women face incredible social and cultural barriers to contraception, the study says.   

 The findings from the multi-stakeholder analysis and human rights assessment demonstrate that women in Haryana are unable to enjoy their basic right to contraceptive services and information, which precludes them from realising their other rights, including right to health, right to life, right to reproductive self-determination, right to equality and non-discrimination among others.

 During their conversations with 168 married women, aged between 18 and 60 years, in five districts of Haryana, it was revealed that 45 per cent did not know about diaphragms or female condoms while only 11.3 per cent knew of copper T, 9.5 per cent of condoms and 2 per cent of oral pills. 

Over 47 per cent said they were aware of sterilisation camps, 17 per cent said they had visited sterilisation camps or accessed sterilisation facilities in government or private hospitals. A few women also said that they underwent sterilisation procedures because their husbands would not use condoms. 

While there were misconceptions about reversible contraceptive methods that made women sceptical about using these, several women also reported that they did not use contraception immediately after she got married and avoided using it until she had a son.

 The interviews revealed that women in Haryana face palpable social and cultural barriers to contraceptive services and information. Women were extremely reticent to discuss the topic and to purchase contraceptives. When unmarried women were spoken to, 91 per cent of them said that they felt social and cultural barriers to contraception. Some of these women said that they did not feel they could talk about contraception because of the fear of discrimination and stigma that could result.

 Among the unmarried women, 86 per cent of girls were unaware of the range of contraception, but 54 per cent knew about sterilisation with 72 per cent knowing about the government’s free condom scheme.

 More shockingly, 94.6 per cent said they had never visited a health consultancy before pregnancy and approximately 66 per cent never met with an ASHA worker. Among those who had sought health care, close to 60 per cent said they preferred to visit a private hospital.  

 Of the 91 pharmacies surveyed by the researchers, almost all had condoms and birth control pills but most did not carry injectables or female condoms. Seventy five per cent of the pharmacies said that women did not buy contraceptives from their shop and had never seen a woman purchase a contraceptive in the last 10 years, while some said women did come to purchase pills.

 “A review of Haryana’s policies demonstrates that many of Haryana’s family policy strategies are dissonant with target-free approach of the National Population Policy. One of the main findings of our report is that although several State policies encourage temporary and spacing methods, the push is largely towards sterilisation,” Prof Dipika Jindal, Executive Director of CHLET and lead author of the survey said.

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