Earlier this year, the Ministry of Women and Child Development issued a draft National Policy for Women with a view to empowering them in personal as well as public spheres. One of the things it promised to focus on was sterilization in men as opposed to women, in a bid for family planning responsibility to be equally distributed between the two.
However, the reality of Andhra Pradesh and Telanganaâ€™s women is starkly different from what the policy promised. According to 2015 data from National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4), 68.3% women from Andhra Pradesh availed sterilization procedures. In contrast, only 0.6% men underwent vasectomy. Further, the usage of contraceptives like pills and condoms is extremely low at 0.2%.
Unlike tubectomy, which involves cutting, blocking or sealing the fallopian tubes, male sterilization is an easier process and a cheaper one too, says Dr Renu Kapoor, Branch manager of Family Planning Association India. â€śFurther, women have to take many precautions and need a month of bed rest to recuperate after the procedure, whereas men have no such restrictions have vasectomy,â€ť she says.
Dr Vasantha Kumari, the State Joint Director of Family Planning Program says that the numbers have no changed much this year as well, with less than 0.5% men undergoing vasectomy, despite awareness camps. The fact that the government pays Rs 1100 to men who volunteer for vasectomy as opposed to Rs 600 paid to women, has also not encouraged more men to come forward, she adds.
The problem here is two-fold. On one level, because child-bearing is a function restricted to the woman, family planning also becomes her burden to bear, Dr Renu says. â€śSecondly, men have a misconception that vasectomy will affect their reproductive organs, sexual health and their ability to work. Itâ€™s an entirely wrong perception,â€ť she insists.
The problems are not limited to Andhra Pradesh alone. The situation in Telangana is not too different, with 54.2% women undergoing tubectomy as compared to 1.6% men opting for vasectomy.
The disproportionate onus on women to not have children is not new. But tubectomy has more chances of leading to complications if due process is not followed. In November 2014 for instance, a doctor conducted sterilization surgeries on 83 women in five hours in Chhattisgarh, causing many to develop post-surgery complications and at least 11 to die. The incident happened at a mass sterilization camp.
Vimala Janawadi, a Bengaluru-based women right activist says that the social and cultural biases are to blame too. The belief that the man is the breadwinner (regardless of the work the woman does), combined with the misconception that vasectomy affects will affect their ability to work is linked directly their perception of masculinity, she argues.
â€śIn a patriarchal society like ours, it is not easy to challenge this masculinity. That is why, to a large extent, family planning is still considered the responsibility of the woman even now. The gap between the number of women and men opting for sterilization is a reminder of this misbalance. The only solution is to tackle the patriarchal mindset,â€ť she says.