What you need to know:
- ...it is better and more urgent to also look at the everyday lived realities of every woman seeking these services and ensure that their own experience is enjoyable and of good quality.
The media was awash earlier this month with reports of the murder of 25-year-old Twikirize Ronious. Her husband, Innocent Kibwetere, killed her because she had dared to take control of when she would want to have another baby. Ronious’ death comes just over a year after Beatrice Amito, a mother of seven, was beaten to death by her husband for taking family planning pills.
As Ronious lay dead in her home in Kyegegwa, delegates from across the globe and national players advocating for the closing of the gap of the unmet need for contraception were packing their bags to converge in Thailand for the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) that took place between November 14 and 17.
An even bigger irony is that Uganda hosted the inaugural family planning conference in 2009, and over the years has been heralded as one of the exemplary countries that have taken heed of the value and the possible return on investment that well-planned and sustainable family planning programmes can yield at national, household, and individual level.
Indeed, Uganda has truly been a leader in the fight for access to universal, voluntary, and quality contraceptive information, services, and supplies.
However, these programmes may not address all the unique socio-cultural issues that women like Ronious and Beatrice deal with while seeking to take charge of their reproductive lives. It was not uncommon for men in some communities to take a knife and extract an implant that their wife or even family member had inserted.
Apart from legitimate cultural reasons where children are seen as wealth and a source of labour, there are some insidious persons and groups that have gone out of their way to spread disinformation about the side effects of contraceptives. These groups often talk about “the population control agenda” intended to slow down the growth of the African population to ensure that their population does not exceed that of other countries in the West, posing a security and economic threat.
Multiple studies have shown that contraceptives have the potential to improve the life and well-being of women, especially for a country where the fertility rate (the number of children that women may have within their lifetime) is still high at six, compared to other countries in the region and globally. And yet contraceptives remain a double-edged sword. If they fail to take them, women risk death or injury from too many or too close together pregnancies.
On the other hand, as was the case for Ronious and Beatrice, they still risk death or injury at the hands of their partners for choosing to prioritise their own health and well-being and receive contraceptive services.
The role of men in promoting and ensuring the success of family planning is undeniable. However, their role and input should complement rather than supersede the rights of the women who own the bodies that will, directly and indirectly, benefit from these services.
To promote family planning services, interventions and narratives employed should centre on the woman and her agency. Further, law enforcement agencies should deal with individuals or organisations seeking to harm women by causing moral panic and fear by relying on pseudo-scientific dangers related to the use of contraceptives.
It is commendable to focus on the big picture of progress made in improving contraceptive access, but it is better and more urgent to also look at the everyday lived realities of every woman seeking these services and ensure that their own experience is enjoyable, of good quality, and leads to a better quality of life.
Ms Joy Asasira is a reproductive and gender justice advocate.