Wrap It Up India: The Time Is Now For Family Planning

According to “Condom Use Before Marriage and Its Correlates: Evidence from India,” a study published in the December issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the majority of people in India having premarital sex between the ages of 15 and 24 did not use condoms. Authors K.G. Santhya, Rajib Acharya and Shireen J. Jejeebhoy report that a mere 7 percent of unmarried women and 27 percent of men had ever used condoms. Even more astoundingly, only 3 percent of women and 13 percent of men reported that they used a condom every time they had sex.

The reason for the staggeringly low rate of young men and women using condoms to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, the authors report, is largely due to the dearth of accessible and affordable contraception and young peoples’ relative lack of education regarding the vital importance of contraception and safe sex practices. Indeed, Population Council reports that between 15 and 16 percent of young men and women engaging in premarital sex have received sex education. Moreover, only 37 percent of young men and 45 percent of young women knew that they could become pregnant the first time that they had sex.

A quote from a woman from Bihar speaks to the troubling lack of factually correct information regarding sexual health : “I never thought of [infections]. Which disease can one get by engaging in sex?”

Or to quote a man from Tamil Nadu, “In our village, we don’t have condoms; I can’t buy [them] from outside. As a precaution, I take a bath after having sex.”

The “Condom Use Before Marriage and Its Correlates” study is important in that it is a first step in addressing the hole in information regarding the sexual behavior of unmarried young people in India. But in a world of 7 billion people—with India’s population of over one billion growing by approximately 1.7 percent annually— more must be done to ensure women’s access to effective and affordable contraception. With 529,000 women and girls dying worldwide each year from injury, infection, or disease each year during pregnancy and childbirth, and 440 women and 65 infants dying per 1,000 births in India alone, women must be given the knowledge and resources to control the number and spacing of their pregnancies. The time is now.

“Condom Use Before Marriage and Its Correlates: Evidence from India” December 2011; Feminist Majority Foundation 7 Billion and Counting 10/31/11; Guttmacher Institute Statement 1/4/12; UNFPA India

Image from Flickr Creative Commons 2.0 User mckaysavage

Reflections on a Population Surging Beyond 7 Billion

6,998,460,833: the world’s current population, according to an estimate by Population Action International (PAI). In anticipation of October 31st, the day the world’s population is predicated to reach 7 billion, I’ve sat at my desk transfixed by PAI’s scrolling ticker, documenting the rapidly increasing population as it approaches a number troubling to reproductive rights activists, public health pundits, and environmentalists alike.

Maternal mortality: a woman in the world dies every minute as a result of complications in pregnancy or childbirth, totaling approximately 529,000 deaths per year.[1] Depletion of natural resources: over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water.[2] Malnutrition and the rampant spread of disease: over 6 million children die annually, the majority of whom are under age five, from completely preventable diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia.[3] These are just a few examples of the problems that will only worsen as the population hurdles at breakneck speed towards its carrying capacity.

The thought of the grow Guttmacher Institute, “A disproportionate share (66%) of all unintended pregnancies in the developing world occurs to women living in [Sub-Saharan Africa, South Central Asia, and Southeast Asia]; virtually all (93%) maternal deaths take place here.”

But for me, having just returned from a volunteer trip with Apne Aap Women World Wide in India, the problem of 7 billion has a human face: the faces of people crowded together cheek by jowl in slums without adequate water or sanitation, the faces of women clinging to their infants desperately struggling to obtain the means necessary to nourish themselves and their hungry children. And with India’s system of identifying and counting its 1.2 billion residents only in its nascent stages, I expect these troubled faces are far greater in number than population indicators currently suggest.[4] As the population continues to surge upward, these scenes are a reminder that women must be given the ability to control the number and spacing of their births through affordable and accessible contraception. 6,998,667,319.

[1] UN Millennium Project Fast Facts

[2] UN Millennium Project Fast Facts

[3] UN Millennium Project Fast Facts

[4] Polgreen, Lydia. “Scanning 2.4 Billion Eyes India Tries to Connect Poor to Growth.” <i>New York Times</i>. September 9, 2011.

Senator Ensign Report: Well Done Ethics Committee, but what about Senator Coburn?

The shocking report issued by the Senate Select Committee on Committee last week described in excruciating detail Senator John Ensign’s (R-NV) reprehensible conduct in sexually harassing a female employee and the lengths to which he went to cover up his wrong doing. The Ethics Committee investigation also revealed anti-women’s rights and so-called pro-family Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) involvement and collaboration in the cover-up of Ensign’s affair.

The Ethics Committee, chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Vice Chair Johnny Isakson (R-GA), released a report last Thursday, supported unanimously by the bipartisan committee of three Democrats and three Republicans, that former Nevada Senator John Ensign violated Senate rules, broke federal law, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission, and engaged in sex discrimination. According to the report, “there is substantial credible evidence that Senator Ensign discriminated on the basis of sex and engaged in improper conduct reflecting upon the Senate by terminating the Hamptons’ [Douglas Hampton, Ensign’s Chief of Staff, and his wife Cindy] employment because of the [sexual] affair” with Cindy.

It was unusual for the report to even have been issued as Ensign had already resigned from the Senate.  However, the Ethics Committee released the report with statements on the floor of the Senate by the Committee Chair Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member Johnny Isakson (R-GA).  This action underscored the seriousness of Ensign’s actions.  Senator Boxer indicated that had Ensign not resigned in early May, he might have been one of the first senators to be expelled from the Senate in 150 years.

As I watched the Boxer and Isakson statements on C-Span with my co-workers at the Feminist Majority Foundation, I was pleased that the Ethics Committee had treated this investigation with the seriousness and transparency that it warranted.

But I can’t help but feel disappointed that the complaint filed against Senator Coburn was not handled with the same level of seriousness. Coburn became deeply involved with Ensign, even talking to the lawyers for the Hamptons on behalf of Ensign.  While he has denied that he was negotiating on behalf of Ensign for payments to the Hamptons, the Ethics Committee’s report on Ensign raises questions about this that need to be answered.  There has been speculation in the press that Coburn may be one of the individuals who received immunity for testifying in the Ensign investigation.  This question needs to be answered as well.

I am urging the Senate Ethics Committee to release the Ethics Committee report concerning the Senator Ensign scandal, filed against Senator Coburn by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).


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