Reproductive Health and Rights: A series of interview with women living in low-income communities(III)

Reproductive Health and Rights: A series of interview with women living in low-income communities(III)

After a lot of outcry, both on social media and in traditional news outlets, by feminists and human rights activists about the manner in which the proposed #GEO Bill was thrown off the floor of the National Assembly, the senate president, Senator Bukola Saraki, agreed to re-introduce the bill. It passed a second-reading, and was stalled pending a public hearing which was postponed due to the absence of the members of the senate committee in charge of the hearing.
It is important to note that on June 13,1985 Nigeria ratified, with no exceptions, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which is also considered the international bill of rights for women, but since its ratification, the convention has not been domesticated. The #GEO Bill actually incorporates a large part of the CEDAW.
In this interview, Jolomi* who trained as a ‘chemist’ (drug dispenser) discusses issues bordering on sexual autonomy, the high rate of abortions amongst women in her community, women’s lack of knowledge about their anatomy and inability to take reproductive health decisions due to this ignorance. She also discusses the state of primary health care facilities and the impact poor reproductive health decisions on the population.

Interview with Jolomi

My name is Jolomi, I went through primary school and got my SSCE before venturing into business. I sell medicine and run a chemist [patent medicine store]. It is common amongst women of my age that there’s a lot of ignorance about their bodies and how it works, particularly as it pertains to their reproductive health seeking behaviour. For example, most of the common cases women bring to me are about pregnancies. Like some of them they might be nursing a 2 months old baby and then they’ll come and tell me that they are pregnant. Meanwhile, this same woman might have had four or five children. This goes to show that we, women, need to know the period we should share intimacy with a man. So these women come to me asking me for a solution because they really don’t want to be pregnant yet, or some of them will say they are already pregnant and want to use something to terminate the pregnancy.

Audio excerpt 1

As you well know, prevention is better than cure, so its really important that we know our menstrual cycle so that we’ll know when we should have sex and when we shouldn’t.

I usually carry out a pregnancy test to confirm whether they are actually pregnant or not, it is important to first test for pregnancy. Because some women panic when they don’t see their period two months after delivery, so it’s important to carry out a test, if it’s positive, but if it’s negative then one will confirm that the person is not pregnant.

Usually after the first abortion and I’m able to tell them about their menstrual cycle, and their ‘safe period’, they are usually able to maintain the cycle and will stop making that kind of mistake. Once they learn about it and know it, they never return to me with the same error. And they even go ahead and teach other people about their bodies and their safe periods.

Men don’t experience the kinds of problems women have. It’s god that will have mercy on us women. It is only women that they tell about how to avoid getting pregnant, and the period they have to use condom. This is because its only women that can get pregnant, men don’t get pregnant. On the other hand, men don’t need any kind of warnings or education because they are free. For example when some women are pregnant they won’t feel like having sex again, because of this, such men knowing that if they ask their wives for sex they will get turned down, the man will prefer to have sex with other women.

Audio excerpt 2

What I’m trying to say is that a lot of men lack self-control when it comes to the matter of sex. Even medically it’s difficult for men to control themselves. When men abstain from sex it gives them stomach upset, and this is due to the way their anatomies are made. The stomach upset is caused by the fact that their semen is inside them and they need to release it, so that they’ll become lighter.

A lot of women don’t think about the impact having many children has on the population. For example, let’s say the government did a census last year and counted ten people, whatever plans they have in mind will be for those ten, but if on their return they find out that instead of let’s say 12 people they expected to see, they now find out that there are 2000 people, this causes a lot of difficulty for the government.

The government should make policies and laws that will mandate that female children must go to school up till a certain age, at least until they leave SS3. This will empower them to be able to join in moving the country forward and enable them contribute meaningfully to the society. Many people don’t believe in educating their female children. In some homes they’ll have four children, let’s say two boys and two girls, but they will educate only the boys in a meaningful way. This is because they believe that no matter how well-educated their daughter is, she will end up in the kitchen.

But it’s not supposed to be like that. It shouldn’t be like that. They should understand that women should participate in decision making, so that we women will have power too.

Children should be educated about their reproductive rights and health from the age of 11years. We are all civilized now, and things shouldn’t be covered up again. Sexual rights education should be part of the school’s curriculum, it is also important that parents should have knowledge about these things so that they can also teach their children.

I use family planning methods, the 2 months injection. My children are well spaced, and I don’t suffer from any side effects. Once I stop taking the injections, after six-months, I usually get pregnant. Although I use the services of the health centre in our neighbourhood, I really don’t like going there often. They are always complaining that they don’t have one thing or the other. Their services are never complete, so I prefer going to a private clinic.

To be continued.

  • The interviews were recorded in Yoruba, transcribed and translated to English.
  • The names of correspondents have been changed to protect the identities of the correspondents.
  • For our Yoruba speaking audience audio notes of the women’s interviews are embedded in the article.

 

Find previous interviews here and here.

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On Abortion – Bunmi Tella

On Abortion – Bunmi Tella

I was asked where I stood on abortion in Africa….here’s my response…..

I’m definitely pro-choice and hate to see men legislating on matters which they know nothing about.

Just a couple of months ago the Sierra Leonean government tried to pass a bill legalizing first term terminations and it was vetoed by male religious leaders on the basis that it’s a sin. Meanwhile that country has the highest rate of maternal deaths in Africa and since the war a steady increase in incest and rape.

It is unfair that men get to decide such matters without much consideration for the mother – who is essentially then victimized twice.

The uncomfortable truth is that even if it’s not rape or incest, a woman should have the option to say ‘I’m not ready – I cannot handle this’.

A woman having unwanted babies is the fastest path to poverty and misery.

The other day I saw a video of 2 men “fishing” a baby out of a river. It had been abandoned by its mother.

When we force people, who are not ready to be mothers, into motherhood we sentence the child to a lifetime of neglect at best and outright abuse at worse.

Its unwanted children that become victims of sexual, physical, emotional and psychological abuse. Its unwanted children that become thieves, murderers and rapists.

During the first term, the fetus is barely a fetus and if i was a fetus I’d rather be terminated than condemned to a life of misery.

There is a reason China had its one child policy and African governments should be embracing terminations en masse to stop poverty if nothing else.

I don’t understand how you can care so much about some cells the size of a grape in a woman’s body but you can’t bring yourself to care about the abject poverty and the miserable life a huge chunk of your population is condemned to.

 

My Celibacy: My Choice – Enajite Efemuaye

My Celibacy: My Choice – Enajite Efemuaye

For an independent, single lady in my late twenties, there seems to be a acceptance that I have a license to have sex at will and if I’m not having sex it’s because some man hurt me and I was paying back all of ‘man’ kind. I remember being in school and someone told me, “it’s because you’re staying with your brother. As soon as he graduates, you will cut chain.”

It made me wonder where this idea that a single woman who is not married, and is living by herself is promiscuous, more so when she professes an acceptance and understanding of her sexuality.

So, I’ve been made to understand that when a female child is born, it is the duty of her parents to shield and protect her until it is time to hand her over to her husband who will continue to shield and protect her until she dies; or if he dies first, her children take over the duty. Summary, a woman cannot take care of herself, if she is left alone she will start doing bad bad things, like have sex up and down. Yes, people still think like that in 2015.

“Haba, but you help yourself, right?”

“What do you mean by helping myself?”

“You know na. You’re a big girl na. You know what I’m talking about.”

*blank stare*

Just for the record, I had no idea what he was talking about.

I took a decision not to have sex until marriage when I was barely a teen and didn’t understand how difficult it would get. And boy did it get hard. The pressure is intense not just from without, but from within, especially when you’re with someone you really like and who know all the right mental buttons to press. But, I digress. This is about people’s reactions when you tell them you’re celibate.

“Your thing will tighten so much that when you decide to do, it will be very painful.’

(A lot of people seem to think being celibate means I cannot bear to hear the words vagina, penis, sex and orgasm). I’m nice, so I take my time with the help of images from google to explain why this is false.

“It is because you have not met the right man yet. If you let me, I’ll take you to heaven and back. I’ll show you so much pleasure you’ll . . .  yada, yada, yada.”

This one is particularly funny, because guys like this most times have no idea what to do with a woman. They follow the FORMULA: lips, breast, vagina, pound. Women that own these men, please stop deceiving them. Thank you.

“Really? Are you sure? Wow. Keep it up, sister.” Yep. Even from the brethren. While they’re not trying to get into your pants, there’s still this slight disbelief because it seems prayers is no barrier against konji.

“Babe! Men will value you, ehn! As you’re not giving it to them they’ll be showering you with gifts just because they want it.” Can someone please point me in the direction of these men because I haven’t met any?

I don’t go around telling people I’m celibate, but we’re so obsessed with sex in this generation that the topic almost always comes up.

There’s an almost proprietory air around most people when they are discussing other people’s sexual lives, who is sleeping with who, why, how? It is sickening and highly disturbing.

When I say my body is mine and I have a right to do with it as I please, this also includes not doing. I don’t believe sex is empowering or diminishing. I’m not a better person because I’m having or not having sex. I’m not less of a woman because I don’t use my being single and independent to ‘catch fun.’

I am just me.

My Abortion Story – Eniitan

My Abortion Story – Eniitan

From the Editor: In an article titled The Case for Legal Abortion in Nigeria, Temi Giwa presented facts, figures, and strong reasons for legalizing abortion in Nigeria. One of the reasons she presented is that in spite of the fact that abortions are illegal in Nigeria, over 500,000 abortions are carried out annually. This figure was presented by Dr Obasanjo-Bello, the chairman of the Nigerian Senate Committee on health, but The Guttmacher Institute claims that the figure is higher, conservatively putting it at 610,000 abortions per year.

In this same article, Temi Giwa said that 142,000 women are treated for complications arising from abortions every year.

In 2013, women advocates all over Nigeria, jubilated when the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, signed into law a bill titled “Imo State Law of Nigeria Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) law No. 12”. on the surface this law prohibited all forms of violence, but embedded within it was a proviso authorizing abortion on demand.

pregnancy-maternoty-photography-hertfordshire
Photography – Hertfordshire

There was an outcry from ‘Christians’ within the state, who have always promoted ‘abstinence’ and ‘morals’ as a way of curbing pregnancies outside of wedlock and within a few days the governor asked the State’s House of Assembly to repeal the law.

Our contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous, talks about her experience, her abortion.

Read on :-

I was pregnant, I was in my early twenties. I was broke.

The father? He’s not important in this story because this is the story of a foetus and I.

A young Nigerian girl of my age was supposed to be a virgin, the soul of purity. While you were growing up your first introduction to your yearnings for someone’s touch, for sex, was shame, you were NOT supposed to have those feelings, wanting to have sex was a thing of shame. So you rightly learn to associate sex with shame.

You were raised to be asexual, to be a sex object, desired by men. Men decide whether you are desirable or not, they decide your worth as a woman. The prettier you are, the higher the pedestal you are placed on. The prettier you are, the more unavailable you are, the more men want you.

As an object you have no right to feelings, you are supposed to meet one man, preferably the type described in Mills and Boons stories – the tall, dark, handsome and of course, rich man. You are supposed to FALL in LOVE with this man, the man is supposed to rescue you from a potential life of loneliness, of permanent singlehood and marry you.

You are NOT supposed to have sex. Even in the dark of the night when loneliness grips you and you instinctively reach out to feel a body next to you.

Your vagina is to be kept clean AT ALL TIMES, even if it means cleaning it with lime. You are not supposed to get wet at the mere sight of the object of your desire. The only time you are expected to have any kind of feeling is when a MAN, preferably your husband, is there beside you, when He wants to put his penis inside of you. Getting that dampness between your thighs is a SIN a mortal sin which is equal to DEATH.

So I broke all these taboos and slept with a man, who was not my HUSBAND. Not only did I become a slut, I also became pregnant!

Pregnancy is another thing entirely. Not only is it illegal in Nigeria, it is also considered a form of punishment by the society.

You’ve been a bad girl, you deserve to be pregnant, you deserve to have babies you cannot care for. You deserve to have your life ruined.

Women are bred to be carriers of babies. They are supposed to be receptacles of a man’s sperm. In biology classes, when you are being taught, along with about thirty other girls, about your body. You are taught about your REPRODUCTIVE organs. They are not called pleasure organs, these organs are supposed to be strictly for reproduction! Your breasts, nipples, vulva, your fallopian tubes… Nobody tells you about your nipples, the way they rise to attention when touched or kissed. Nobody ever mentions that the clitoris is the ultimate orgasm giver.

Even when the sexual act is being described, the biology teacher talks about how a man’s penis will rise, how he will ejaculate his spermatozoa into your tract so that those little devils can swim up to your eggs. The lecture is delivered in a voice that implies that this act is shameful, something to be done with a man in the dark recesses of the night, preferably under bedclothes, with your eyes averted in shame.

The man, ejaculates, the woman is laid out flat and bears it. You’re not supposed to enjoy sex, you’re not supposed to have orgasms.

And you daren’t ask your parents about sex! You’ll probably earn yourself a couple of slaps and lectures on how you should stay a virgin until marriage, because virgins are more valuable than non-virgins in the marriage market. You’re a thing, an object. You’ve been objectified from the moment the doctor looked between your thighs, spotted your vagina and announced to the world ‘it’s a girl!’

So there I was with this foetus inside me and the knowledge that I don’t want this foetus turning into a child, I cannot afford to have the foetus grow into a child because I can barely afford to feed myself. Do I actually want children?

I can hear some women saying stuff like, so why did you open your legs when you knew you weren’t ready? Like the Yoruba will say, “why did you r’edi (why did you do the grind) when you’re not ready.” The next question is ‘why didn’t you use a condom?’ but … nobody told you about condoms in those days, condoms are dirty. Good girls don’t carry condoms around, good girls don’t enter a pharmacy or a supermarket and looks into the eyes of the sales person and say ‘I want to buy a condom’ in those days. So you panic! Who would you tell? You daren’t tell your mother because you know she’d first strip you off with her tongue or any handy broom or stick – she might insist you have the baby, to ‘punish’ you.

So you start putting out feelers.

There’s always somebody who knows ‘somebody’ who’s had an abortion before. These people are without names or faces, because abortions are shameful things, abortions are like STDs … nobody ever admits to having one.

Then one of your friends comes to you with a slip of paper. On it is an address and the amount of money you need for the abortion. Not a single word is exchanged, not even a ‘thank you’ because you’re doing this to help out a friend in need, you are a good girl, good girls don’t get pregnant ‘outside of wedlock’.

The ‘doctor’ is a young man. He lives in a dingy building, there’s no light in this building. The doctor takes you into a semi-darkened room. He first asks for his money, after you give it to him and he counts it, he asks you the last time you’d ‘seen’ your period.

You tell him.

He asks if you’re absolutely sure because he needs to know the ‘exact’ date, so he can determine the ‘exact’ month of the baby.

He talks in a dead voice, a voice devoid of emotions. You’re a stupid girl who got pregnant.

You think about the last time you’d seen your period. You think about the fact that the ‘doctor’ was giving you some peculiar looks. You look straight back at him and say ‘yes I’m sure’ all the while wondering if you can trust him not to kill you.

You arrive at the conclusion that it will be a win-win situation, he kills you, you’re dead, who cares? You won’t be here to be shamed (yes, I was depressed, suicidal even).

Then you remember horror stories of girls who got infected and had their wombs removed, girls who can never have children again – another win-win … (I didn’t examine that feeling too closely).

He asks you again about your last period.

Yes, you’re sure that was your last period.

Then you remember HIV. You make a mental note to go for the test… but first things first…

The young man takes you to an even darker, dank room, the odour of something you can’t place your finger on, teasing your nose. He asks you to take off your jeans and panties, no don’t take off your t-shirt.

He asks you to lay on a long wooden table after laying a filthy, green wrapper on it. He asks you to lie on it, and spread your legs.

As you look into his immobile face and spread your legs, the self-hate nearly chokes you. Maybe it’s even better you die.

He spent some time mining for gold as he waited patiently for you to spread them wide enough. He palpates your stomach.

He’s not even fucking wearing gloves! You die inside, tears of humiliation, of shame roll down your face.

The tears stop as you feel something cold slide inside your vagina.

Please don’t make noise o! You don’t want the neighbours hearing you, he says as you feel something tearing your insides apart.

You open your mouth but nothing comes out. The pain is beyond anything you’ve ever felt before. It tears you apart. The pain goes on and on.

Don’t close your legs. His voice pierces your pain. Your head is bursting, you are sure you would die, you know this pain will kill you.

The pain goes on and on and on…

The pain is worse than closing a door on your index finger, worse than slicing your thumb with a sharp knife, worse than somebody punching you in the face…

At some point you must have fainted because the next time you open your eyes, he was standing in front of a basin you hadn’t noticed when you first entered the room, he was washing his hands. He was washing blood off his hands, your blood.

You’re bleeding.

He asks if you brought a pad. You shake your head numbly, it threatened to blow apart, so you stop shaking it.

He pulls an old toilet roll out of a drawer. He asks you to get dressed, he gives you the toilet roll, take as much as you want, he added generously.

You touch yourself, the blood is still gushing.

The bleeding will stop, please get up, you have to leave now. He unceremoniously pulls you off the table.

The pain clutched at your stomach as you tried to straighten up. But you refuse to make a sound, you absorb the pain, the pain is your punishment.

You unfold the toilet paper and roll it up, inserted the makeshift pad between your thighs. You pull on your underpants your trousers.

He gives you some pills and asks you to take them … when you get home.

You can’t remember how you left that dark space, you walk in a haze of pain. You board a taxi to your house. You half crawled into your room, on to your bed.

You find some water, swallow the pills, was about to roll back into bed when you realise your clothes are soaked with blood. Your blue jeans were now dark red, the edge of your yellow t-shirt spotting a thin line of red.

You pull off your clothes, half-crawled to your bathroom, pour water on yourself while leaning against the bathroom wall. You are crying, but nobody hears you. Nobody cares. You brought this on yourself, this pain.