In 1976, Kim Tuyen, aged 18, left her home in the town of Vinh Long in war ravaged Vietnam to live on a farm in the country. She had left to escape her stifling conservative family, and living independently gave her the freedom she craved. There, she met an older and seemingly charming man, whom she began to see. After a month of frequent meetings, Kim fell pregnant. What should have been a happy occasion, soon soured when she informed him of the news. He grew angry and lashed out at her, hitting and beating her.
Frightened and injured, Kim returned home to her parent’s house, where she confessed to her family that she was pregnant. Despite the evidence of his abuse and Kim’s pleas, her mother threatened to cut her off from any financial resources, if she did not wed the father of her unborn baby. During this time, Vietnam was still very conservative and sexual relations outside of marriage. A baby born out of wedlock would have been a source of disgrace for the whole family. Under pressure, Kim caved and they were married soon after. Kim’s marriage was a violent one, where she was subjected to beatings. After a particularly brutal assault a month into the marriage, Kim miscarried. Though she recovered, the emotional toll and abuse worsened, until Kim committed suicide a few months later.
Even though the events of the above story occurred over 40 years ago, hundreds of like experiences still occur right around the world. Situations like Kim’s are unfortunately not unique. Women are still having unintended pregnancies and choices that they should have are being taken away from them. This, can lead to other negative outcomes, like domestic violence. In fact, it has been estimated that women who have unintended pregnancies are two times more likely to be abused or subject to intimate partner domestic violence 1.
What would have happened if Kim, and others like her, had a choice about whether or not to become pregnant? What would have happened if Kim knew and had access to contraception?
The theme for our second post in this series:
‘No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother’ – Margaret Sanger
Gender equity is the idea of achieving equity of opportunity and equity of outcomes for all people, regardless of their gender. Specifically, gender equity here refers to the advancement of women and their reproductive rights.
Contraception has long been heralded as one of the most basic ways to address gender inequities. It does this by allowing women to delay having children if they wish to. For adolescents and teenagers, this is especially important as it results in a greater chance of them staying in school and attaining an education².
In some countries, pregnancy and schooling are mutually exclusive. In Tanzania, girls are forced to undergo frequent, invasive pregnancy tests, and if they are found to be pregnant they are immediately expelled³.
Education is critical in achieving gender inequality goals. Girls who attain adequate schooling, have increased earning power and therefore financial autonomy. WHO estimates that for every year a girl stays in school, it increases her future earning potential by 10%². It also has other outcomes, as girls who stay in school are more likely to have fewer children and send them off the school, less likely to die in infancy and less likely to get infected with HIV².
An unintended pregnancy involves considerable expenses and time demands, which mostly falls upon the mother. As a result, this may force her into marriage, like what happened to Kim and become financially dependent on her partner. Contraceptive services allow women to have a choice about when and how many children they have. The financial autonomy that can be attained with access to contraceptive services is the cornerstone of female equality and empowerment².
The following infographic explains some of the empowering effects of access to contraceptives for women in poverty:
- Children by choice. Violence and Pregnancy [Internet]. Australia: Children by choice; 2016 [cited 2017 Feb 18]. Available from: https://www.childrenbychoice.org.au/factsandfigures/violenceandpregnancy
- World Health Organisation. Family Planning/Contraception [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organisation; 2016 [cited 2017 Feb 18]. Available from: http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs351/en/
- Forced out: Mandatory Pregnancy testing and the expulsion of Pregnant students in Tanzanian schools [Internet]. The United States: Centre of reproductive rights; 2013 [cied 2017 Feb 17]. Available from: https://www.reproductiverights.org/document/tanzania-report-forced-out-mandatory-pregnancy-testing-expulsion