Family planning in the face of domestic violence

Failure to deal with domestic violence unfortunately impacts on family planning efforts, as women have very little say on the number of children they would like to have and the birth control method they prefer to use.

Failure to deal with domestic violence unfortunately impacts on family planning efforts, as women have very little say on the number of children they would like to have and the birth control method they prefer to use.

In a context where in Africa the concept of ‘marital rape’ or ‘conjugal rape’ is taboo -- wives cannot discuss forced sex by their husbands in public or to third parties.

In many African countries, women are not only raped by strangers or men they are not married to, but are also abused by their so called husbands and this in most cases leads to unwanted pregnancies if not sexually transmitted illnesses.

Rwanda is one of the few countries world-wide to define and outlaw marital rape, in the recently enacted Gender Based Violence Act.

The GBVA defines ‘conjugal rape’ as ‘coercing a spouse into sexual relations without that spouse’s consent by way of force, intimidation, tricks, etc.’ 

With the penalty defined:‘Any person who coerces his or her spouses to sexual intercourse shall liable to an imprisonment sentence of between six (6) months and two (2) years.’

Rwanda’s fertility rate is at 6.1 children per woman, while maternal mortality rate is at 750/100.000 live births, while the neonatal mortality is 86/1000 births and the under five mortality rate is 152/1000.

This is all for a very young population where 60 percent of people are less than 20 years old.

When dealing with violent and uncompromising men, it would be a dream to think about negotiating family planning methods with them.

All this is rooted in traditional customs which discouraged birth control; thus women who had several children found favour before the husband’s family.

World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FP as the possibility of the individuals and couples to freely choose the number of children they want and the moment to have them.

With the tradition that a Rwandan woman was traditionally not supposed to have any say in the family she married into, she was left to give birth, cook, raise children, and become voiceless.

Thus being hindered from proper family planning.
Therefore, instead of having family planning as a way of couples arranging when to have children, it instead turns out to be a woman’s burden and her concern-- in most cases even leading to increased conflicts in families as women try to tackle the issue.

Though under family planning people use birth control methods and other techniques, it becomes so hard when it comes to the men who have been described as unreal and violent, they are against it.

Family planning is sometimes confused as a synonym for the use of birth control, and not in terms of planning the number of children, per family, and the spacing between them.

Alice Mukandutiye says she married at a very young age, after getting married she was continuously abused both physically and emotionally by her husband through marital rape and beatings on several occasions.

Out of the rape, she says she gave birth without spacing, which exhausted her since it was her duty to take care of the children who were almost of the same age.

But she says that after some counseling the husband regretted his past behavior and realised that it was not easy to even help the children grow in a proper way.

“We had eleven children and two died, I think due to lack of appropriate care. I had all the children not because I wanted it that way, but because my husband forced himself on me and so, sometimes find myself with unwanted pregnancy,” Mukandutiye explains.

She explains of the polygamous union she is in, “I had co-wives who also think kept giving birth without spacing like me.”

Another thing that makes Mukandutiye bitter is the fact that she was charged with taking care of the children through her agricultural produce.

But the problem is that sometimes her husband even forcefully sold what would be harvested to buy himself alcohol.   

Meanwhile, I would not borrow the definition of rape as sexual relations that take place when an individual forces himself on minors or the mentally retarded who cannot take a stand when it comes to the action as some experts put it.

Maybe it is about the weighing of who is vulnerable to the act more, otherwise the use of force in sexual relations has been reported in families of married couples and the trend has seriously affected family planning. The cry comes from women more than their male counterparts.

Health experts say that the solution to the hindrances of FP would be other techniques commonly used as: sex education, prevention and management of sexually transmitted infections, pre-conception counseling and management, and fertility management. 

The Health Communication Centre (HCC) report on health information for behaviour change points out that one sexual encounter can be enough for pregnancy to occur.

Studies have shown that 25 percent of women who have intercourse without using a birth control method will become pregnant within a month.

“One episode of unsafe sex may be enough to pass a disease from one partner to another,” the report continues.

Studies indicate that currently in Rwanda there is a gap between the knowledge related to the existence of a contraceptive method-98 percent, and the use of contraceptive method (10) percent, it adds.

Safe sex means taking precautions during sex that can keep you from getting a sexually transmitted Infection (STI), or from passing on STI to the partner.