By: Mallah Tabot, Women Deliver 100 Young Leader from Cameroon
This blog is part of a series, edited by Women Deliver, in partnership with Impatient Optimists, on youth perspectives to celebrate World Contraception Day. Share your thoughts in comments and join the conversation at #WCD2012. For more stories and to get involved further visit No Controversy.
With more methods of contraception available, girls and women are increasingly provided with the freedom to choose if and when to be mothers. This freedom, however, generates controversy. This puzzles me: why is there propaganda against the use of contraceptives? Should we pretend that young people are not having sex and flood their minds about the ills of contraception? Should we stand by as married women are having unwanted pregnancies with the belief that delaying childbirth is unholy?
I believe there is still stigma surrounding sex in general, especially in Africa. Before this world debate around access to contraceptives kicked off, very little was said about it. The importance of planned parenthood was ignored in my country, Cameroon. In 2004, only 13 percent of married women were using modern contraceptives. Poor and uneducated women have even less access—only 1 percent of women with no education used modern contraception in 2005. Today, a higher percentage (17.4 percent) of young women age 20-24, are using contraceptives than ever before, but access is still limited.
Family planning is a rarely-discussed topic among parents and children, is not a part of the education curriculum, and young people often feel shy or embarrassed when it is brought up.
In my opinion, the issue of contraceptives is often traced to accessibility and provision, and that it is not holistic. It is not enough to just hand birth control to a young woman. Youth must feel comfortable in seeking contraceptives, and must to able to make informed choices when using them. There are few, if any, counseling resources, information systems, or media outlets in place to ensure that the right information is disseminated. In rural communities, women and girls are less likely to negotiate condom use for family planning, thus rendering alternative means of contraception highly indispensable. Only 5.9 percent of women living in these areas had access to family planning in 2004. Globally, there are still over 200 million women who don’t have a chance to decide if and when to have a child.
Contraceptives are also too costly for an average young person in Cameroon. This is exacerbated because most people are not medically insured, so paying for contraception is not a priority. As long as price remains an issue, then the level of accessibility to contraceptives remains highly limited.
What about Sandra Fluke? When a young woman had the courage to speak to US policymakers about the importance of medical coverage for contraceptives for young women, she was insulted and belittled. If this is a challenge in the US, then imagine at what level we are in terms of accessibility in Africa.
Unfortunately, there are so many misconceptions which discourage youth from using contraceptives. What would your attitude toward them be if you heard repeatedly that a girl could become barren if she uses pills over an extended period of time? Or that you are likely to gain twenty pounds if you take contraceptives for more than one year? Or that a girl who takes birth control pills is highly promiscuous? Media campaigns on the use of contraceptives would be useful in disclaiming these myths, especially through social media. Young people need to know the truth around delicate issues like these.
It is important for both genders to have equal information, as a newborn child becomes a shared responsibility. Efforts should be made to reach out to both sexes and encourage them on the use of and importance of birth control if they decide to have sex.
If we all agree that contraceptives give you power, freedom, and choice over your life, then access to contraceptives is an absolute right for every girl who needs to choose if and when to have children, or any mother who wants to have appropriate spaces in-between her children and choose how to raise her family, or any couple who thinks they have had enough children. Information and services on the use of contraceptives need to be provided to those who need them.
My name is Mallah, I am 24 and from Cameroon. I am a journalist, blogger, very passionate gender activist and project manager who believes young girls and women can provide sustainable and informed solutions to the world’s most challenging problems.