Tanzania’s president John Magufuli has come under recent criticism for telling women in East Africa, ‘don’t use birth control’. The 58-year-old’s reasons for the outrageous comments are, that somehow, in family planning, women will become ‘lazy’ in not having a large family to ‘work hard’ for. Interestingly, Magufuli makes no mention of men or their role in family planning in his comments.
“I see no reason to control births in Tanzania”, Magufuli stated, his personal ignorance of how birth control has helped reach a certain level of gender equality being exposed. His speech was made at a rally on Sunday 9th September and directly targeted women who seek to have ownership over their own bodies. Not only this, but in a country where the poverty rate is 33.3%. managing pregnancy can also be a responsible choice with ethical motivations. It is no secret that raising children in poverty is hard on the whole family. The use of birth control is a means of control over their bodies which allows for a better quality of life.
His negligent comments disregard the fact that contraceptives are used for more than just avoiding pregnancy. The issue of sexually-transmitted disease such as HIV and Aids especially in poorer communities is not something to be so readily dismissed. His words are harmful in that they place added pressure on women to avoid protecting themselves from these life altering diseases. With the rise of sexual assault against women, the risk of STD’s from non consensual encounters is also a risk as well as unwanted pregnancies.
In December 2017, Tanzania’s police confirmed a surge of 0.9% in reported rape cases, an increase of sexual violence that shows attitudes towards women are potentially diminishing in the country. For some of these women, being on birth control at the time of their attack, prevents unwanted pregnancy which would hinder their social and economic mobility. What men like Magufuli ignore, is that birth control helps women to exercise the right to be the exclusive controller of their body and life.
It’s sad to say, but Magufuli’s disregard for women’s sexual autonomy and quality of life isn’t new. Let’s not forget that this is the same politician who pardoned two child rapists with victims of over 10 primary schoolgirls in 2017, and who demonised young mothers by banning them or those pregnant from attending school in the same year. It is these decisions, among others, that is quickly presenting Magufuli to be a budding dictator for his oppressive views. While many have criticised Magufuli for being ‘uneducated’, or simply ‘ignorant’ of the issues women, especially in under-developed countries, go through, it is simply that Magufuli does not care about women in general. Simply put, for Magufuli, women are less than human. Instead, they are cattle, allowed to be sexually assaulted at whim by men, to be used by the state for reproductive purposes, and to be confined within the domestic sphere.
There is a lengthy history of women’s bodies being political battlegrounds. Black women, in particular, have a world-wide history of not being in control of their own bodies. We have been subjected to over-sexualisation, medical experiments, and over-exposure in the public sphere for centuries. Magufuli advising women not to use birth control is an extension of this oppression, and the reality of having to even argue against these opinions in 2018 is troubling, to say the very least.
By Charnté Williams