Contraceptives in Haiti. It’s as controversial of a topic on this small Caribbean island as politics is in America. Questions are posed, assumptions are made and opinions are formulated, often not without reason, but usually as a result of misinformation. It begins with a basic understanding of medical care in an underdeveloped, impoverished country like Haiti. With the advancements of modern-day medicine, it’s easy to stereotype women with several children, who are unable to feed them, as careless. However, it is not the woman who fails to plan for her family, but rather the heavy male dominancy, the cultural taboos and the lack of infrastructure which fails the woman.
It’s difficult to imagine what a Haitian woman endures in her lifetime. A female’s rights in an oppressive culture are not only rarely recognized, but they are often nonexistent. What if you knew it’s not only perfectly acceptable for a Haitian man to claim multiple women as his own, but it escalates his social status? But if a woman were to follow suit, she would be outcast and labeled with derogatory terms, belittling her worth and oppressing her voice. So she bears children in hopes of seeking stability and commitment with a man who will provide not only for her needs, but also the needs of her children.
But even if she were to investigate her contraceptive options, she might experience opposition from family members, friends or, if she’s associated with a church, peers of the congregation. There are cultural taboos plaguing a woman’s desire to seek medical alternatives to plan for her family, threatening the reputation of her moral standards and values. So she foregoes what’s she’s learned about her reproductive health in fear of how others may perceive her.
Finally, here is the problem with health care in a third world setting. The government funded and operated hospitals are tragic. Imagine for a moment arriving at the hospital only to be turned away because the sleeves on your shirt are too short, or perhaps the doctor failed to show up on a day he is most needed. If the peoples’ basic medical needs fail to be met, how can the distribution, education and use of contraception be effective? So she waits, hoping to be noticed, hoping to be seen, hoping to be recognized for more than who her society has forced her to be.
Women, universally, are much the same. They were created to nurture. They were created with the instinct to mother their own children. Why, then, are Haitian women criticized for fulfilling the same desire as those who are affluent? What if you knew not only all of the factors that contribute to a Haitian woman’s pregnancy, but also all of the factors that don’t?
While in recent conversation with some of the female Papillon artisans, and without coaxing, they responded in much the same way. When asked about family planning, they share of the mizè – the misery – they experience, not in having children, but in providing for several of them. They share of the expense and the way it is difficult, even with a job, to feed and clothe and educate the ones they call their own. While they deeply love their kids, they cannot always determine how many pregnancies they will experience and they cannot always plan for the number of babies they will have because it’s not always their choice to do so. Haitian women are, indeed, vulnerable. But they are not careless. And if given the proper resources, education and attention, the misconceptions about them in regards to their bodies would no longer be made.