Reproductive Coercion: The Silent Abuse

Reproductive Coercion, Sexuality, Health, Public Health

“He likes to have sex with me without a condom and I don’t because it makes me uncomfortable.”

My friend told me a few months back.

I shrugged it off simply by telling her that maybe, sexually he needs a little more and you should plausibly explore. Only to realize now, that what a big RED FLAG it has posed.

As much as we love our partner, we aren’t always comfortable doing certain things. We state our concerns and often our partners are receptive hence, the lovefest begins. Afterward, do we only realize the condom was taken off without our consent? Does this sound familiar?

We all have heard about the types of abuse in unhealthy relationships such as emotional, psychological, and physical and at some point in our lives gone through them knowingly or unknowingly.

You would have often heard stories or instances from your peers as to how someone was asked to abort the baby against the girl’s wishes or how someone was forcefully impregnated because the family wanted a child. There have been instances where the family has wanted a child which is specific to their gender demands. Sadly, females don’t even understand how emotionally or psychologically they are being abused. These, are all instances of reproductive coercion.

So what really is the reproductive coercion? Simply put, it is a specific type of intimate partner violence in which one partner forces unprotected sex in order to increase the chances that the other partner will get pregnant against her will.

Reproductive Coercion on women
Reproductive coercion, source: ESME

Often, it takes the form of emotional manipulation. Threats and Physical violence make it a part of a larger pattern of partner violence and abuse. In most scenarios, people don’t even know it’s happening to them or they rarely talk about it shrugging it off as minor hitches taking place in one’s relationship. Therefore, it’s no surprise that we don’t have concrete data or statistics on the number of people facing this atrocity. These are not just women who suffer it, Queer people also are on the receiving end of the very exploitation of reproductive rights. 

In the Indian legal system, any complaint regarding any form of coercion usually falls under The Protection of Women Under Domestic Violence Act 2005 along with Section 498A (Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) of the Indian Penal Code.

The list is endless as to how reproductive coercion can take place and how many manifestations it can take a form into. Men refusing to wear a condom, forcing sex without a condom, poking holes in condoms, flushing birth control pills down the toilet. The end cannot be seen.

In the film, Lipstick Under my Burkha one of the characters,  Shireen Aslam ( Konkona Sen Sharma) was forbidden to use any contraceptive method and her patriarch husband throws her birth control pills when he finds them. That is exactly what reproductive coercion looks like.

Reproductive Coercion
Konkona Sen Sharma in Lipstick Under my Burkha

On a Sunday morning, my domestic help was accompanied by a young child. After she left I asked my mother about the child. To my surprise, I got to know that the kid wasn’t her grandchild but her own son. The next day, I asked her to know how many kids she has, and that’s exactly where the story begins.

Hasmukhi Gupta (45) has 6 children out of which 5 are daughters and the youngest one is a son. When asked about the reason for having 6 kids, while cleaning up she told me that her husband and her mother-in-law have always wanted a boy. “That is how we ended up being a family of 10.” I further asked her whether she really wanted a son? She responded in denial. She was happy having a girl and never wanted another child. 

Reproductive Coercion in India
Partner often controls the reproductive rights of a woman. source: Lina Illustration

Now, that I finally understand about coercion being faced by women when it comes to reproduction or their sexual well-being, I am only taken aback by the numerous stories I’ve come across but little did I know that people in my family have also faced it. 

My grandmother Sutapa (64), went through the same atrocity faced by uncounted women in her marital days. Her mother-in-law forced it on her to give her a grandchild, a son preferably because she, needed an heir to their business. She complied with her demands and this led her to give birth to 3 children, 2 girls and after a lot of tribulations, a boy!

Over, a tête-à-tête, my grandmother tells me how it was difficult for her to give birth to 3 children and how mentally, physically and emotionally it had affected her because she was never ready for it.

The above two stories, made me come to the conclusion that:-

A) In India, the foremost reason for reproductive coercion to take place is the demand for a male child. The whole essence of having a male heir or a male child to make the life of the parents viable is deeply entrenched.

B) Reproductive coercion isn’t a class-based atrocity. It doesn’t solely happen in families who have a lower-economic background but, well-off families and educated people too.

It boils down to how women whether unmarried or married and young girls should recognize the behavior of their partners and when it starts posing to be a red flag and not take it as a normal crook that’s taking place in the relationship.

Advocate Pankaj Srivastava, in his professional career has observed many cases related to reproductive coercion that often ends up either as a dowry or a rape charge and sometimes both. He states,

“I come across minimum 40-50 cases in a month or two most of which deal in early-marriage, physical abuse, and dowry within all certainties”.

He further added, “the DLA (Delhi legal aid) provides interim relief or maintenance to rape victims and those facing coercion.”

I was already blaming the lack of awareness among people in Reproductive Coercion, Pankaj Srivastava then added to his statement that, “People tend to misuse the law once they get aware of it.” 

Although India was among the few countries to have proper laws regarding contraceptives and abortion despite that, women continue to get exploited when it comes to making decisions over their own reproductive rights.

Therefore, it’s not really surprising after coming across numerous stories regarding this phenomenon and how they really go unaccounted for close-knit Indian households. Even talking about sex is a taboo.

Exploitation against women have been so normalized that there is no strong legal structure that deals specifically with the cases of reproductive coercion.

The repercussions of putting reproductive coercion in denial are quite visible. The physical and mental trauma of forced pregnancies often puts women in dire situations where they end up having a lot of health-related ailments and AIDS in some cases.

Other than the physical abuse, being pregnant without their wish makes them more dependent over their partners especially financial dependence, as male partners are often given responsibility to earn and the female partner then looks after the children and the household. 

This certainly defines that awareness, is the need of the hour. Not just women but society as a whole demands a direction and awareness of reproductive coercion. As noted health author, Pamela Mason puts it,

“Reproductive freedom is not just the ability to have a child through birth control. It is the ability to have one if and when you want.”

Shambhavi Dutta
Shambhavi Dutta

Shambhavi is passionate about writing, listening to music and latest makeup and fashion fads. You’ll find her either sipping coffee or probably reading lifestyle blogs!

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