Archive for the birth control Category

15 de Agosto: Noticias

Posted in abortion, Argentina, birth control, Bolivia, Latin America, reproductive rights, women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week, a variety of news bits on Bolivia and reproductive rights around the world.

First, a story of social and political conflict in Bolivia’s Potosí department, where for the past 18 days, strikers have blocked roads and led social protests in the area.  Protestors are attempting to hold the Evo Morales government responsible for a number of projects that, although promised some time ago, have scarcely advanced.  The projects include an the construction of an international airport in the city of Potosí, the establishment of a new cement factory in the region, and government preservation of the historic Cerro Rico–the mountain pictured below whose silver deposits essentially financed the Spanish conquest of Latin America over 500 years ago.

The Andean Information Network (AIN) interprets recent protests in Potosí as evidence that Evo Morales’ traditional bases of support are disappointed with the administration’s failure to keep its promises.  While the Morales government often describes protests as led by the right wing, the AIN notes that, “seventy-eight percent of Potosí voters chose Morales in the 2009 presidential elections, second only to voters in the La Paz department.”  La Paz’s paper La Razón reports today that a variety of officials of the Morales government have been in negotiations with the Potosí protestors, and that some progress has been made on at least one point of contention, the plan to construct an airport.  However, hunger strikes and street blockades have continued, since five other major grievances have not yet been addressed.  Meanwhile, in the city of Potosí, families have been subsisting largely on noodles and rice, since blockades have prevented meat from reaching local markets.

None of the coverage of the Potosí protests that I have encountered thus far has discussed women’s particular participation in the protests or how women and girls are being affected by the conflicts.  In similar mobilizations in Bolivia, however, women have taken an active role.

This photo of the Cerro Rico mountain and Potosí city courtesy of Gerd Breitenbach, a user of Wikimedia Commons.

As political conflict rages in Bolivia, Argentina received an embarrassingly poor report card last week on women’s reproductive and sexual rights.  Last Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a 52-page report chronicling, “the many obstacles women and girls face in getting the reproductive health care services to which they are entitled, such as contraception, voluntary sterilization procedures, and abortion after rape.”  Regular readers will remember that these are also common problems in Bolivia.  Their prevalence in Argentina, however, is even more appalling considering that this country’s socioeconomic indicators tower above those of Bolivia, even after the economic crisis of 2000-2001.

Similar to conditions in Bolivia, the report, entitled, “Illusions of Care: Lack of Accountability for Reproductive Rights in Argentina,” notes the high prevalence of illegal abortion, high rates of maternal mortality due to abortion, and the failure of judges and doctors to authorize and perform those abortions that are legal (ie., in cases of rape). Access to contraceptives is also restricted due to a variety of issues, such as long waits at clinics, the (unauthorized) demand that a husband sign for a woman’s sterilization procedure, and financial costs.  These issues–and other, similar ones around the world–prompted one Guardian blogger to call for a UN agency specifically devoted to women. That’s an idea that’s easy to get behind.

The Human Rights Watch report on Argentina can be downloaded here.

The San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Finally, good news from the U.S.A.: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in that country approved a new pill to be used to prevent pregnancy after intercourse. The medication, called “Ella,” is considerably more effective than the morning-after pill that is currently on the market, Plan B.  While Ella will prevent pregnancy for up to 5 days following sex, Plan B is only effective for 3 days, and becomes less effective the later it is taken after the event.

This move by the FDA has been interpreted as “evidence of a shift in the influence of political ideology at the FDA,” since its approval moved more quickly than that of Plan B, and, as one activist mentioned, was “‘based on scientific evidence, not politics.'”  This does not mean that the battle has been won, however–anti-abortion activists have been quick to describe Ella as an abortifacent, and some are planning campaigns against the drug.  At the moment, women can obtain Ella with a prescription from their health care provider at any time, so they can keep a supply at home.  Go get yours today!


6 de Febrero: Los que realmente queremos

Posted in birth control, Bolivia, fertility with tags , , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by eugeniadealtura

This week I’d like to share a study that was published in the December 2009 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin Catherine B. McNamee brings us this study, titled, “Wanted and Unwanted Fertility in Bolivia: Does Ethnicity Matter?”  You can access the PDF of the article here:

Wanted and Unwanted Fertility

Early in her article, McNamee points out a well known fact—that indigenous women in Bolivia have a consistently higher fertility rate than mestiza (mixed-race) and white women in the country.  (While in 2001 indigenous women had on average 5.0 children each, non-indigenous women had 3.6.)  The question that the author then poses is simple, but as she points out, rarely addressed in studies of this type: do indigenous women have more children than mestiza and white women because they want to?

The answer, not surprisingly, is no. McNamee finds that the desired fertility rate for indigenous women is 2.7 children, 2.6 for mestiza and white women—which means that, while both groups are having more children than they want, indigenous women are having way more than they want (167).

One problem, clearly, is birth control use.  Only 27% of indigenous women report using “modern” methods of birth control (which are more effective than traditional methods), compared with 61% of non-indigenous women (170).   McNamee identifies a variety of factors that make using these contraceptive methods more difficult for indigenous women than for mestiza and white women.

A central obstacle to indigenous women’s use of modern methods is the real or perceived opposition of their male partners.  McNamee notes that, “cultural barriers that inhibit indigenous couples from discussing family planning could contribute to…unwanted fertility” (173).  Machismo also certainly plays a role.  Many women state that their partners oppose their birth control use because they believe that, with their wives on the pill, they can sleep with other men without fearing pregnancy.  Other women confess that they use methods without their partners’ knowledge.  (This is why relatively confidential methods like Depo Provera are so popular here.)

In addition to unsupportive partners, McNamee finds that many indigenous women simply distrust birth control and Western medicine in general (167).  This belief has a long and somewhat sordid history in Bolivia, and is not altogether unfounded.  In 1971, the Peace Corps were famously expelled from the country due to allegations that the group was sterilizing women and inserting IUDS without women’s knowledge or consent.  These policies were correctly identified as part of eugenic and imperialist attempts to limit low-income indigenous populations worldwide.  Indigenous women in Bolivia also often suffer discrimination in Western health care facilities, where they are sometimes insulted or mistreated, and prevented from practicing the reproductive rituals that they prefer (taking home the placenta after birth, for example).  For these reasons, women may be hesitant to visit health care centers or to use modern birth control methods.

Finally, McNamee notes that indigenous women are consistently poorer and more likely to live in rural areas than non-indigenous women, which obstructs their access to birth control methods (173).

McNamee makes a few key policy suggestions to help reduce unwanted pregnancies among indigenous populations that have not, to my knowledge, been attempted in any large-scale way in Bolivia.  First of all, she makes the revolutionary suggestion to direct birth control information and services toward men, as well as women. Secondly, McNamee urges policymakers to increase access to birth control methods in rural areas and to promote culturally sensitive care, so that more women will feel comfortable visiting health posts and hospitals.

As McNamee notes, “women, regardless of ethnicity, should be able to control the number and timing of their births. The inability to control fertility is an incursion upon basic human rights”(167).

I would add to this that women should also be able to control how we time our births and how we understand and manage our fertility.  Indigenous women’s hesitation to use Western birth control methods and facilities is complex and understandable.  Perhaps a final and apt suggestion would be to promote non-Western proposals, from local midwife and yatiri communities, to decrease the gap between the number of children we want, and the number of children we have.