Coca-Cola and The Blacksmith Water: Your Comprehensive Guide to Contraception

By: Reem El-Shafei

Interest in contraceptives dates back thousands of years, with evidence of early attempts, including a human-made condom crafted from animal skins in a French cave 11,000 years ago and linen condoms made by ancient Egyptians.

While the Greeks believed that squatting and sneezing after sexual intercourse could prevent sperm from entering the uterus, they considered it a method of contraception. Additionally, they used the blacksmith water, and it kind of worked, because this water is full of lead.

But side effects such as nausea, kidney failure, as well as coma, and death have appeared.

In 1839, condom development evolved from sulfur to rubber, with a groundbreaking shift to latex rubber later on.

About 60 years ago, women resorted to “Coca-Cola vaginal douches.” It was believed that sugar would blow up sperm!

Dear women meet the most important invention ever: “The Pill”

Pills consisting of progesterone and estrogen appeared in the sixties of the last century.

While their proportions may vary from one type to another, the way they work is the same.

They work by stopping the ovaries from releasing eggs, or by keeping the mucus in the cervix sticky so that the sperm cannot penetrate it.

In this way, hormonal methods prevent fertilization of the egg.

Therefore, the pill was considered one of the most important human inventions at the time.

It was not just an invention that prevented pregnancy, it was a revolution against all the concepts that link women to their reproductive role.

It was also a clear challenge to patriarchy, which has always tried and continues trying to control women and their bodies.

What these pills provided them with was much greater than controlling reproduction alone. The Pill facilitated an economic revolution, breaking barriers in education and professional fields.

In 1960, less than 5% of women entered law and business schools.

After the Supreme Court ruled that birth control was legal, and made methods available, this percentage increased by about 10 times by 1980, until it reached about 57%.

According to one study, access to contraception accounts for about a third of women’s income since the sixties and has a direct impact on reducing the likelihood of falling into poverty.

Headaches, weight gain, and reduced libido: Why do women choose the pill?!

“I didn’t know what I’d been missing out on until I stopped taking the pills after I got pregnant. I found myself enjoying old activities, and I even went back to writing,” Hajar Massad said of her experience, which is shared by several women.

“A.T.”, who preferred not to reveal her name, told Sharika Wa Laken, “She started to feel lumps in her chest, coinciding with the use of pills. After a long journey, the doctors admitted that the use of hormonal contraceptives could pose a risk to her health.”

A.S., who also preferred to remain anonymous, also spoke to our platform about how frustrated she feels, because hormonal methods affect her weight significantly, which is reflected in her shape and self-confidence.

She pointed out that “her husband bullies her, comments on her weight, and makes fun of her body. But on the other hand, he refuses to participate in this task by using a condom.”

Common side effects of pills include weight gain, decreased libido, high blood pressure, strokes, blood clots, migraines, liver cancer, and mood swings, which may lead to severe depression.

But, despite all that, some women still choose to use it.

A study conducted in Jordan revealed that 82% of women expressed fear of asking their partners or husbands to use condoms. While 71% of partners refused to use it.

Alaa Amer, an Egyptian woman, said, “After using the pills, she began to suffer from severe vaginal dryness, which led to pain during sexual intercourse. In addition to severe mood disturbances, and significant weight gain.”

“She refrained from eating and tried to convince the doctor that the symptoms were related to the pills, but he refused the idea to the point that she doubted herself,” she said.

But when the symptoms became so severe that she could no longer bear them, she stopped taking them, and the symptoms disappeared.

Contraceptives for men

Men’s refusal to use one of the easiest and cheapest contraceptives is incomprehensible and selfish.

They are available in family planning centers, just like pills and IUDs. It is safer in terms of its effect on the user’s health.

While some may try to link it to the economy, Saudi Arabia, for example, which is one of the richest countries in the Gulf, ranks third as the country that uses the least condoms.

As for the reasons that play a role in not using the condom, the top of which is the lack of correct information about it.

The previous Jordanian study showed that 38% of women did not know that it might protect them from HIV, and a quarter of the participants said they did not know where it was sold.

There are still two methods of contraception in men, condoms and spermatic cord ligation procedure.

The process is very simple, and takes about a quarter of an hour, using local anesthetic.

Its success rate exceeds 99%, and its side effects are very minimal and do not go beyond feeling some pain in the wound area for several days, with the possibility of infection as with any surgery.

Although there is no law criminalizing this procedure in a country like Egypt, many doctors refuse to perform it, under religious justifications, even if this is the desire of the man.

Beating or divorce is a “punishment” for using pills without the husband’s knowledge

Mariamah Samir, a thirty-something woman living in Hadramout, Yemen, has four children. Due to war and widespread poverty, she cannot provide them with basic care.

They are now not in school, and due to their young age, and cannot even work to help the family.

However, the husband absolutely refuses the use of contraception, arguing that “it is these children who will bear his name after his death.”

When she tried to use these methods without his knowledge, she was beaten and imprisoned for a week, and he threatened her with divorce and displacement.

To make matters worse, some family planning centers in the region refuse to give her pills or insert the IUD without the husband himself being present and acknowledging his consent to use them!

In Egypt, which was one of the first countries to make contraceptive pills available in the mid-sixties of the last century when the Supreme Council for Family Planning was established, the rejection of family planning methods remained great, either because of rumors or for “religious” reasons!

Among these rumors, these methods lead to “infertility, cause cancer, and death.”

Religiously, those who oppose family planning rely on justifications such as “we were created to populate the earth.”

And that “these pills are a foreign agenda to eliminate Muslims,” or that “whoever takes them is cursed by God, because they interfered with His will.”

Then we come to the most famous justification of all that “the child is sent with its means of living”, that is, “God shall provide for it”, and that “the children are a source of pride”!

What is holding Arab women back from controlling their reproductive choices?

In its 2030 agenda, the United Nations Fund for Youth and Population pledged to reach 3 zeros.

These are zero maternal and newborn deaths. Zero rates of gender-based violence. Finally, zero unmet need for family planning methods.

These family planning services, if met, could prevent the death of 400,000 women and 1.6 million births.

In a world where nearly 50% of pregnancy is unplanned more than 60% of these unplanned pregnancies will end in abortion.

45% of abortions will be unsafe, directly affecting the rise in maternal mortality, according to a 2022 report by the United Nations Fund for Youth and Population.

How are we going to get to 3 zeros, when it is difficult for Arab women to simply enter a pharmacy and order an emergency contraception, most of which contains 1.5 milligrams of levonorgestrel?

This hormone is included in the composition of traditional birth control pills that are considered legal, but women simply cannot obtain it, because of the stigma they will be exposed to and the accusations of “loathing the honor” and “recklessness” they will face.

How can this be achieved under unfair abortion laws?

Arabic-speaking countries criminalize abortion

In 2015, the Center for Reproductive Rights identified countries that ban abortion and only allow it to save the mother’s life.

They are Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, Yemen, UAE, Oman, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine.

The countries that allow abortion to preserve the health of the mother are Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, and Morocco.

Bahrain and Tunisia allow abortions under the twelfth week of pregnancy, without giving reasons.

Many Arabic-speaking countries consider abortion outside the legal framework a “crime punishable by law.”

In Egypt, for example, abortion is considered a misdemeanor that may amount to a felony depending on the method used, and the woman is punished with 3 years in prison and the doctor with rigorous imprisonment.

These unfair laws do not take into account some women’s accidental pregnancy, their freedom in their choices, especially about their bodies, and their right to refuse pregnancy.

Such concepts are difficult for lawmakers in Arabic-speaking countries to comprehend.

The patriarchal structure of the system celebrates and strongly promotes women’s stereotypical reproductive roles.

When it comes to women choosing the contraceptive method they want to resort to, patriarchal moral guardianship shows up to take over.

Women’s conversations mention that pharmacist who rebuked them for asking for birth control pills, because by doing so they “reject God’s provision”, according to his beliefs.

A friend of mine from Jordan also suffered from this guardianship, when her doctor refused to fit her with an IUD because she was “newly married, and this will delay the pregnancy for a long time, which is not recommended.”

She also told her that “you should have children at a young age when you are fully energetic.”

Do policies believe in women’s right to make free and safe decisions about their bodies?

Fatima Ibrahim, an intersectional feminist researcher, and sexual health rights activist, said, “In Arab societies and the world in general, policies rarely take women and their interests into account, as policies, especially in the Arabic-speaking region, are influenced by social and religious dimensions. Men are the ones who form the power in the state, ignoring the needs and experiences of women and girls.”

“These policies are rarely designed to serve women’s needs, but rather to control them, especially when it comes to sexual health, in a society where sex is an acquired right of men and a duty of women.”

From the perspective of the state, pregnancy and childbirth are the role of women in society, and must be the result of a relationship that is “religiously legitimate.”

Therefore, the policies available to support women’s right to birth control, or to use contraception, are reserved for those who conform to the state’s patriarchal perspective: “a married woman, who controls birth with her husband’s prior consent, before even consummating the sexual relationship.”

Policies and health service providers collaborate to ensure that women who exercise their right to own their bodies freely outside the legislative frameworks of the state and religion are punished.

It is also evident that the state is biased against women’s ownership of their bodies, and normalizes policies to control them by failing to adopt systematic and workable policies to support safe abortion.

This puts many women’s lives at risk, such as violence and sometimes sexual exploitation, to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy.

However, countries’ approval of such laws would be tantamount to acknowledging that women have the right to have sex and control over their bodies, threatening the throne of the existing patriarchal authority.

As for the married woman who wants to abort her pregnancy, she is often forced to have her husband with her to ensure his consent.

On the other hand, we are faced with the problem of a lack of laws that oblige doctors to set aside their personal opinions and beliefs, which may conflict with the patient’s needs.

Experiences of Women in Conflict Zones

When we talk about contraceptives, we certainly can’t ignore their political exploitation and the experiences of women in conflict zones.

Politics in these countries intervenes in the smallest reproductive decisions because they will reflect on economic conditions and identity.

The most prominent example of this exploitation is the practice of the Israeli occupation to entrench the idea that Palestinians “constitute a demographic threat.”

So they focus their propaganda on encouraging settlers to have more children.

Another example that can be mentioned is the reports that have revealed the denunciation of Syrian demands for access to reproductive and sexual health services, and birth control pills, by health service providers.

These requests were met with great astonishment because there were other priorities under the pretext of “war and crisis”.

A similar thing happened in 2006, after the displacement of the Lebanese to safer areas due to the Israeli aggression on Lebanon.

Service providers also denounced women’s demand for birth control pills when needs were assessed in the camps.

More than sixty years have passed since the first woman took birth control pills. While this pill was considered a tool that enables women to control their bodies, it also places the burden on them rather than the men.

The majority of men refuse to use their own contraceptives because they believe it affects what they call their “masculinity.”

So when will men bear equal responsibility with women regarding contraception?

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