In the province of Buenos Aries, 24 percent of girls and women report having unprotected sex because their partner does not want to use contraception. According to a survey of 2,766 young people, women are more than three times as likely to cite partner pressure as the reason for avoiding contraception, putting them at risk of unwanted pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
“It is, without a doubt, another form of gender violence,” Santiago López Medrano, minister of Social Development, stated simply to La Nación.
The data comes from the Provincial Youth Survey, which collected data from young people between the ages of 15 to 29 across 135 municipalities in the Buenos Aires province. Respondents provided data regarding various lifestyle habits, such as education, health, employment, utilization of free time, participation in politics, access to technology, and consumption of psychoactive substances. The survey was carried out in August 2016 by the Ministry of Social Development, but its results were only presented last month.
Given that there are 3,850,000 individuals in the 15-29 age group in the province, we can project the results of the survey to deduce that around 180,000 young women who do not use contraceptives because their partners don’t want to. Partner pressure was one of the main responses given to explain lack of contraceptive use, almost equal to the desire to become pregnant.
The survey results become even more alarming when we consider that 69 percent of teen pregnancies for girls 15-19 years old in Argentina are unplanned, and 65.5 percent of teen girls became pregnant by failing to use any method of contraception. Nearly 3,000 of these young mothers are under 15 years old, a figure that hasn’t changed in over two decades. This data comes from the UNFPA, a worldwide development organization, and is startling reminder of the unequal assumption of risk associated with unsafe sex.
By virtue of biology (but also distinct societal expectations), men and women do not face the same consequences when making the decision about whether, when, or how to engage in sexual activity. After becoming pregnant, six out of ten young women drop out of school for fear of discrimination by peers or having difficulty studying. Around 5 percent of girls even reported being expelled or declined admittance to school due their pregnancy, according to a 2008 report on teen pregnancy in Argentina.
Unwanted pregnancy entails the risk of unsafe clandestine abortion, and if the pregnancy is carried to term it carries with it subsequent problems such as having to leave school, increased difficulty in accessing work opportunities, interruption of personal development, and general limitations on life outcomes.
Although the survey results show that men tend to make the decision about whether or not contraception will be used, the consequences are not completely bound by gender. They affect both young mothers and their partners. Gala Díaz Langou of Cippec, a think tank focused on public policy in Argentina, remarked, “What we tend to see in young couples that have children is that the girls withdraw from the labor market and the males start working early in low-paid, low-skilled jobs to support the family,” according to El País.
Public Policy Changes
“We have the enormous challenge to provide the youth with public policy that helps them achieve their potential,” said Santiago López Medrano. What kind of light do the survey results shed on how legislators can improve the the future for young women in the province?
According to the survey, young people in Buenos Aires province begin having sex at age 16, on average. Although the majority (61.2 percent of women and 65.5 percent of men) of young people report always using contraception, 33.2 percent and 29.6 percent report they “sometimes” use contraceptive methods, and 5.6 percent and 4.9 percent report never or almost never using them, respectively.
“These are very high figures,” commented López Medrano.
Since so many young people become sexually active while they are in school, many experts see these numbers as a call for increased sexual education to encourage safe practices. Researchers published evidence-based policy suggestions for Argentina in an international journal on sexual and reproductive rights called Reproductive Health Matters, where several possible policy initiatives that would reduce teen pregnancy and their consequences were outlined:
- Socio-economic policies aimed at social inclusion of adolescents from underprivileged groups would allow teenagers to envision a future for personal development outside of having children;
- The Ministry of Education issuing guidelines requiring schools to fulfill the rights guaranteed to pregnant students and mothers by existing national laws (25.808 and 25.273);
- Improving sexual education at schools and communities that combat persistent myths regarding contraception;
- For areas where a high proportion of adolescents are not in the educational system, appropriating resources promoting gender equity and safe sex to parents and community leaders
Consent, Forced Pregnancy, and Gender Violence
The 2016 Provincial Youth Survey shows that women and girls in the Buenos Aries province are becoming pregnant due to choices they did not freely make. “It has happened to the majority of women, being asked not to care for ourselves. It is another form of gender oppression.” Rocío García, 27 year-old professor told La Nación.
The teen pregnancy crisis has also served as an extension of the broader conversation around women’s bodily autonomy that has come to the forefront of Argentine politics given the heated debate surrounding the bill to decriminalize abortion. The bill is currently waiting for a vote in the Senate on August 8th, and will determine how criminal cases involving abortion are prosecuted throughout the country. An extensive report by the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Rights of Women reads, “we are facing a forced pregnancy when a girl (for this study, under 14 years) becomes pregnant without have sought or desired to and one denies, hinders, or delays the termination of the pregnancy.”
The same report enumerates, “forced pregnancy was declared a war crime and a crime against humanity by the Statute of Rome (1998) when committed in the context of armed conflict. But girls who go through that experience in times of peace also suffer serious consequences that mark their lives forever.”
In short, it’s not just about condoms. That many young women indicate experiencing pressure from their partners regarding whether or not to use contraception is indicative of a broader problem surrounding the exertion of force, be it physical or emotional, onto women that prevents them from freely making decisions about their body.
Public health officials recognize the issue as a form of sexual violence. The minister of Social Development stated, “the violence is not just physical, verbal or psychological. Here there are critical risks: girls exposed to disease often because of relaxed used of condoms,” indicating the public health challenges posed by a complex cultural issue. “It’s not just about needing to empower girls. Public policies are also needed to reflect that men can not force girls to accept what they do not want,” stated Fabián Repetto, researcher for the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth.
How exactly the results of the study might change the direction of public health policy in Argentina remains to be seen, but obstacles are many. Repetto continued, “there is an enormous challenge: educate to generate a cultural change. This can’t be changed by a simple decree.”