Common and essential for birth control, contraceptives came at an opportune time for the African woman, but when access to contraceptives solely depends on the amount of money in one’s pocket, then there is a serious problem.
By Bridgette Bugalo
The Women Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) a Bulawayo-based organisation that seeks to promote the advancement of women’s social, political and economic rights in a constitutional democracy, convened meetings with women in Gwanda seeking to discuss sexual reproductive health challenges faced by women. Among the challenges was inaccessibility of contraceptives.
In previous meetings with the same women, WILD had since learnt that they were facing challenges purchasing contraceptives with particular mention of the high pricing pegged at $5 or more, in an era where the general populace was living on less than a dollar a day.
Concern was high that contraceptives such as the Jadelle were not readily accessible as most women would be on the waiting list for at least three months before accessing it.
The third concern was that the area had only one government medical doctor who could, therefore, not cater for all women seeking maternity services.
As a women’s organisation seeking to ensure the rights of women are uplifted and access to healthcare is attainable in line with Section 76 of the country’s Constitution that guarantees the right to quality and affordable healthcare services, WILD convened a meeting which opened a can of worms.
It is during this meeting that a shocking revelation was made by one of the women who have been using contraceptive methods for a long time to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
Use of one of the long-acting contraceptive methods — Jadelle implant — has been a difficult and painful chapter in the life of Lindiwe Dube (not her real name).
Jadelle (levonorgestrel) implant is a form of a female hormone used to prevent pregnancy and is a long-term (often up to five years) reversible method of contraception.
The contraceptive can be removed before five years if a woman decides to have a child. The implant is inserted under the upper-arm by a minor surgical procedure performed by a health care provider.
Dube’s story is one of the untold stories of the challenges faced by women when it comes to sexual reproductive health and family planning in less developed countries.
Speaking during the meeting, one could tell from the look on her face that she was in total disgust. She recalled the day she and her female counterparts found out about a man who was offering free Jadelle implants in the area.
“A few years ago, I heard from other women that there was a man in the area who was supplying the ‘famous’ Norplant, free of charge,” Dube said.
“I had no money at the time and I thought the $15 charge required by the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council was a price too exorbitant. So it was then that I made a decision that has changed my life completely.”
She said she could no longer bear children and was failing to find the Jadelle in her body.
“It is such a shame now because I can no longer conceive,” she said.
“I have visited the doctors and they are failing to track and find the contraceptive that was inserted into my body. The damage has been done and I live with it — with so much regret.
“However, I will continue to encourage women to desist from acquiring services from unregistered sources.”
In light of the above, WILD believes contraceptives should be readily available at a reasonable price so as to avoid situations where women end up accessing substandard contraceptives from backyard providers.
WILD’s belief is informed by the health-related targets the Sadc Protocol on Gender which encourages the development and implementation of policies and programmes to address mental, sexual and reproductive health needs of women and men.
WILD strongly believes that affordable access to family planning is a human rights issue in line with Article 52 of the country’s esteemed Constitution which guarantees personal security of its citizens, including allowing them the right to make their own decisions in matters of reproduction.
However, if contraceptives are accessible to those with money, then women are not accorded the right to make decisions as their social status and lack of money defines their fate.
In addition, Article 14 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa also encourages the respect and promotion of the sexual and reproductive rights of women, including a) the right to control their fertility b) the right to decide whether to have children, the number of children and the spacing of children and c) the right to choose any method of contraception.
However, when women can no longer use a certain method of contraception because of its price and are limited to a few other methods, then there is a problem that clearly needs to be addressed as swiftly as possible.
Bridgette Bugalo is the Communications and Advocacy Officer at the Women Institute for Leadership Development (WILD).