Dear Men, Sexual & Reproductive Health Is Not Just a Woman’s Issue
Over the past several decades, India has taken important steps to support women’s sexual and reproductive health. India was the first country in the world to launch a family planning program in 1952 and one of the first few to legalise abortion in 1971. Yet today, millions of Indian women still lack access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
This challenge is acute for family planning and abortion in the case of unintended pregnancy, two key sexual and reproductive health interventions. For example, two-thirds of married women in India between 15-49 years want family planning, which allows couples and families to attain their desired family size through use of contraceptive methods. However, up to 30% lack access. Similarly, abortion is completely safe when administered by a registered medical provider and legal under certain conditions. However, many women turn to unsafe methods of terminating their pregnancies, leading to approximately 10 deaths every day.
Stigma and lack of awareness fuel these issues and men can play a key role in changing that by participating in, and normalizing, conversations around sexual and reproductive health. However, in my job as a genecology and obstetrics specialist, I often hear men ask: “what can I do about sexual and reproductive health when that’s a “woman’s business”?
I’d like to first challenge the assumption that sexual and reproductive health is a women’s-only issue. It has been proven time and time again that when women are empowered to make choices about their own bodies, it helps families, communities and entire nations thrive. I’d also like to answer the question of what men can do with what I’ve coined the “ABCs”: simple yet foundational steps that any man can take to support their female partners and communities.
Access Services and Information Yourself
It may sound counterintuitive, but the first step is being willing to take care of your own health. Ask your provider for information about the basket of choices that are available for you. For instance, female sterilisation continues to be the most preferred contraceptive method.
It is also critical that men get tested for sexually transmitting diseases to avoid unintentionally passing them along. Understanding the array of options that exist will ensure that we as men can make informed choices and help our partners do the same.
Bust Myths and Misconceptions
For instance, three in eight Indian men believe that contraception is women’s business and that men should not have to worry about it. 20% of Indian men are concerned that a woman who uses contraception may become promiscuous. However, the reality of contraception is that it simply ensures that men and women can practice safe sex, preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. It is also often used by women for reasons that have nothing to do with sex: for example, to control negative symptoms related to menstruation.
This does not stop women from terminating their pregnancies – it only keeps them from doing so safely, contributing to the high number of unsafe abortions across the country each year. Actively using our voices as men to call out myths and promote accurate information will normalise the conversation around women’s sexual and reproductive health, reduce risk of negative health outcomes and create more equitable communities.
Call for a Woman’s Right to Choose
Create a supportive environment for your partner, as well as for women around you, to ensure that they can make informed choices about their bodies – choices that are only theirs to make. What a woman does with her body should be up to her, including what methods of family planning work best for her and whether to continue her pregnancy to term.
As we move toward an era in which women are empowered to make decisions about their health and lives autonomously, it’s time men contribute to this paradigm shift. To advance towards a better society, it is essential that we all advocate for equitable health for all. Men and women alike must play an active role in ensuring that women and girls receive the care they need to reach greater heights and realise their dreams.
(Dr. Basab Mukherjee is a Gynecologist and an Obstetrician & Gynecologist with over two decades of experience. He is the serving Secretary of The Bengal Obstetrics and Gynecological Societies in Kolkata.)