National statistics indicate that an average Ugandan woman gives birth to seven children. However, in some areas such as Gulu, the fertility rate is higher – at 7.4, meaning women there and possibly other districts give birth to more children than they should. The high birth rate is mainly attributed to men who resist family planning services.
The Saturday Monitor of May 23 published an article on the plight of women in Gulu, who are being barred from using contraceptives by their husbands. The article highlighted the story of a 38-year-old woman in Lalworo village, Paicho Sub-county, Aswa County in Gulu District, who despite having had 14 children, her husband still forbids her to use contraceptives. Another case is of a woman in Kalawinya village, Angagura Sub-county in Pader District, who after two miscarriages and six babies, got an implant which was forcefully removed by her husband using a razor blade. These are just few examples of women being denied their right to family planning.
As a desperate measure, midwives – according to the story – have devised a means of helping mothers by putting implants inside the women’s buttocks where they will not be discovered by their husbands.
Access to family planning, as Reproductive Health Uganda rightly says, is a right and every adult should be free to make responsible reproductive health choices and a right to sexual autonomy, integrity and safety. By denying women contraceptives, their rights are being infringed on.
Grace Anena, a senior nursing officer in charge of midwives in Gulu District Health Office, says men opposed to birth control will never opt for condoms, or even vasectomy.
What is happening in Gulu highlights a widespread culture countrywide. Statistics from the East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the advancement of women show that every minute, a woman dies of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. The risk of maternal mortality increases with each pregnancy. Yet, across the world, 200 million women who would like to delay or avoid childbearing have no access to safe and effective contraceptives. Every year, an estimated 19 million unsafe abortions take place in the developing world, resulting in 68,000 deaths.
The maternal mortality rate is still high so encouraging family planning is one of the ways to curb these avoidable deaths. The Ministry of Health should , therefore, join hands with organisations working to promote reproductive health to educate the masses, especially men, on the benefits of family planning and clear the myths about contraceptives. Women should also be made aware of their rights to sexual and reproductive health.