Fri | Apr 19, 2019

Letter of the Day | Are Jamaican men afraid of granting equal rights to women?

Published:Friday | April 12, 2019 | 12:46 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

There is a strong, silent, deep gender component to the emotional anti-abortion debate. I sense a strong fear that if women truly had the reproductive right to decide “when, how often and how many” children to have, they might choose to not have any.

It seems the only way to prevent women (and men) from having the “right to make decisions that govern their bodies, free of stigma, discrimination, and coercion” is to put the fear of God in women especially.

Why are men (and some/many God-fearing women) anxious? No more cheap labour? Have they considered the alternative – a safer, gentler world where we all co-exist by respecting each person’s independence to truly chart their journey across life’s path?

The demise of the plantation economy established MPs as the ‘massas’ of the grand Jamaican estate. Was government’s 1970s financing of family planning (FP) another fear response, wary of its capacity to feed, educate, house and provide health care for all (recall “Two-is-better-than-too-many”)?

The unintended consequence, as often occurs, was liberation of women from the “tyranny of excessive child-bearing”. Having learned from their mothers that responsibility for feeding children once lactation ceased was theirs, many used FP clandestinely, embracing the injectable contraceptive which lasted three months and could be used without their men-folk’s knowledge.

CAN YOU BLAME THEM?

Between 1970 and 1990, the total fertility rate (average births per woman) fell from 4.5 to 3.0 births per woman, far shy nonetheless of the replacement level rate of 2.1.

Fast forward to 2019. One website (https://www.indexmundi.com/jamaica/total_fertility_rate.html) suggests that by 2017, Jamaican women now only averaged 1.96 children. Some persons want to blame abortion. Imagine if women could decide how many children to have without being raped, coerced or otherwise tricked into unprotected sex, the population will implode like Japan!

In fact, the birth rate plummeted not because women didn’t want children, but because HIV/AIDS (nature’s solution to careless sexuality?) made men fearful again. Once the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) entered the Jamaican heterosexual population in the mid-1990s (our first HIV-related maternal death was in 1998), health promotion activities urged men to use condoms.

One 14-year-old youngster epitomized men’s attitudes in a focus group discussion, “if the gal get pregnant, a feh her problem, but dis yah AIDS ting a death, gi me de condom dem mam.” An inadvertent benefit of condoms to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, is they limit women’s exposure to sperm which fertilize eggs and result in pregnancy. So fear not, is “de condom dem,” not abortion, why births have declined. Between 1989 and 2008, ever use of condoms doubled from 33 per cent to 77 per cent (RHS, 2008).

Now, if men obeyed the Bible, courted, married and remained faithful to their wives, they wouldn’t need condoms to prevent HIV/STIs, and women’s exposure to wily sperms would increase.

Women, secure that their husbands would help support and nurture their children to at least age 18 (high school) or 23 (university), might have that third child. But with sex a passing fancy, can you blame women’s good sense?

DR AFFETTE MCCAW-BINNS

Professor of Reproductive Health & Epidemiology

University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica