An estimated 225 million women today would choose to stop or delay childbearing, but are not using contraceptives. Why is this the case? Is it because they do not have access to them? Or because they are not allowed to make childbearing decisions for themselves? Answers to these question are essential to improving women’s autonomy and health across the globe. And a new study of Nepalese women shows that a more important factor than access to contraceptives may be religious attitudes towards them.
Who Uses Contraceptives?
Margo Andersen Taylor, an undergraduate student in the BYU Sociology Department, has gathered new evidence that has broken down old assumptions about women’s autonomy and contraceptive use in Nepal – a country with low contraceptive use. She presented her findings at our recent Fulton conference.
It is often assumed that people in rural populations are less likely to use contraceptives because they do not have access to them. People who live on farms, for example, might not live close to a physician or a store where they could get “the pill” or a contraceptive device. However, Andersen’s newfound evidence suggests that being in a rural setting actually does not deter women who are allowed to make personal and/or household decisions from accessing contraceptives. In fact, the difference between urban dwellers’ use of contraceptives and rural dwellers’ is almost entirely negligible.
Why Then, are Contraceptives Not Used?
If women in rural settings are not likely to be kept from contraceptives, why are there so many Nepalese women who do not use them? This study, with a sample size of almost 10,000 Nepalese women, showed that autonomous women of the Hindu faith were more likely to use contraceptives than Buddhist women. In fact, the most autonomous women of Buddhist affiliation were among the least likely to use contraceptives.
According to this study in Nepal, when it comes to contraceptive use, it doesn’t seem to matter so much where you live, but what you believe.
The government of Nepal is currently running a media campaign to inform its citizens about options for better family planning, directing most of these messages to people in urban settings. Their hope for change, however, is likely based on the false assumption that this urban-directed campaign will be most effective because urban populations have greater access to contraceptives.
Andersen believes that it’s likely Nepal would have more success in achieving their goals of increased health and population control if they were to focus their campaigns on religious groups rather than regional populations. Her data is being prepared for publication that may help the government of Nepal to take a more effective approach in their endeavors to improve women’s autonomy and health.
Andersen’s poster (seen below) won first place in the sociology category of the conference.