Contraception and its many benefits
A recent article in The Jakarta Post on June 6 quoted a statement by the National Family Planning Board (BKKBN) that a lack of fatwa contributed to the low number of Indonesian men using condoms or participating in family planning programs.
The agency’s chairman further requested that the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issue a fatwa to declare that contraception is allowed under Islamic law, noting that the BKKBN “had found it difficult to encourage men to think about contraception without religious edicts”.
Contraception has many important functions. In addition to condoms preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, contraception is essential in decreasing the fertility rate and encouraging family planning.
This in turn has important effects in reducing income inequality within Indonesia. I noted in a previous article, “Income, a perilously widening gap”, that income inequality is widening in Indonesia, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting (much) richer.
By limiting the number of children within a poor family through the use of contraception, parents would be able to spend more per child on education.
This would improve a child’s chances to earn a higher wage and thus make a better living for himself. As more of the poor earned higher wages, more wealth would be accumulated by the poor, hence reducing income inequality.
Indeed, data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in February indicates that 49 percent of the labor force only attended but not necessarily completed elementary school, with 23.6 percent completing senior high school (SMA) or vocational high school (SMK). Hence, an emphasis on education is necessary and contraception is essential in that regard.
Contraception is also linked to reducing gender inequality. The 2011 Human Development Report noted that countries that have high gender equality also indicate a high usage of contraception among couples. The opposite is also true.
Such a relationship can be attributed to the perception that men are more effective in generating income, a bias still held in many parts of the modern world. Within families of several children due to unplanned pregnancies, the males therefore receive more support, hence increasing gender inequality.
A look at Indonesia’s gender inequality index paints a telling picture. The index is a measure from 0 to 1, with 0 indicating no inequality toward women and 1 illustrating the most unequal treatment of women in comparison to men.
Indonesia’s 2011 gender inequality index is 0.505. In addition, only 57 percent of married men or women aged 15 to 49 use contraception in Indonesia.
Thus, one can observe very tangibly the relationship between contraception and reducing gender
inequality in Indonesia.
Increasing the use of contraception is hence critical to access its many benefits. As the introduction mentions above, however, religious backing is necessary in order to encourage the use of contraception among married couples.
Religious leaders of all faiths in Indonesia must therefore act in concert in order to encourage contraception among families. In a nation of diverse faiths, however, this raises an important issue.
To what extent can religion be depended upon to teach the rational values of contraception in a (supposedly) secular nation where there is a multitude of faiths?
The answer is that religious cannot be wholly depended upon to teach the rational values of contraception in a secular nation. For the current generation of adults, religion is the only incentive for contraception among those lacking in education.
But for young adults and the next generation, education must replace religion in efforts to encourage contraception. Possibilities for contradictions, confusion and tension exist due to the different values and teachings espoused in Indonesia’s different faiths, all of which are counterproductive to encouraging contraception.
Common ground certainly exists, such as sex only after marriage, and efforts must always be made by the government to ensure that religious leaders encourage contraceptive use. Ultimately, however, efforts on encouraging greater use of contraception must take place within education.
In order for this to be effective, the benefits of contraception should be highlighted in the educational curriculum, particularly with regards to the income inequality issue. Money affects everyone irrespective of religion, and hence an emphasis that contraception can bring about an improvement upon their lives should be the focal point.
An emphasis upon the secular nature of contraception must also be highlighted in order to encourage future use by young, married adults of all faiths.
The above argument is hollow, however, without a high participation rate in secondary education. Only 23.6 percent of the labor force completed senior high school or vocational high school, an embarrassingly low figure.
The government must therefore ensure that the majority of students continue beyond elementary school and complete their secondary education.
This is particularly pertinent since sex education and contraception is taught in secondary school. Several ways exists in order to achieve this, but the point is that the government must ensure that the greater proportion of students complete their secondary education in order that they are taught the benefits of contraception.
The benefits of contraception are evident and must be made apparent to young adults and the next generation. Education, not religion, however, must lead the way in espousing the values of contraception.
The writer is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Canada