Women in Zimbabwe today have a significant measure of power in terms of controlling their own sexuality and this has made it possible for them to have a say in family planning issues.
But there are a number of challenges that have emanated from this freedom to use female contraceptives.
Apart from the social and cultural issues arising from this emancipation, there are other, mainly health-related problems that women have to deal with alone.
The most common problems include weight gain, excessive bleeding and pelvic infections as well as prolonged periods of infertility.
According to the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, current contraceptive use among married women in Zimbabwe in the reproductive age group runs at 60%, an increase of 12% from the 1998 record. The reproductive age group ranges between 15-49 years.
However, some women said they were experiencing prolonged conception periods after the use of contraceptives.
A Tynwald woman who identified herself as Tariro said for the past 14 years, she has failed to conceive despite the fact that she has not been on contraceptives.
“I have been to the gynaecologist and they say everything is normal,” said Tariro.
Ministry of Health and Child Welfare permanent secretary Gerald Gwinji says the ratio of rural-to-urban usage of contraceptives is 1:3 indicating that 55% of rural women use family planning methods compared to 70% of their urban counterparts.
The contraceptive ratio means that for every one rural woman there are three urban women who use contraceptives.
Gwinji says the most popular form of fertility control for women in the country are oral contraceptives and injectables.
Oral contraceptives are those taken by mouth, usually in the form of pills, and injectables also known as Depo Provera which are injections taken for various periods varying from three months to five years.
“Contraceptives are commonly used by women because they are provided for free in most public institutions and the high literacy level of women in Zimbabwe and high knowledge about family planning contributes to this usage,” he said.
He said women in the country use contraceptives because there are integrated and trained service providers that assist them to use contraceptives.
On claims that some contraceptives, especially hormonal contraceptives, cause infertility, Gwinji explained: “Some hormonal contraceptives may delay the return to normal menstrual cycle and fertility but do not cause failure to conceive. Hormonal contraceptives do not cause permanent infertility.”
He added that so far, the country has not recorded any incidents of permanent infertility due to the use of contraceptives.
Zimbabwe, he said, has a 13% unmet need for contraceptives.
According to a Safaids paper on reproductive health published last year, the unmet need for family planning has remained static at 13% over the past decade and there is need to rejuvenate family planning programmes in the country to reduce this figure.
“Women must be encouraged to present themselves for HIV testing before becoming pregnant and uptake of prevention of mother to child transmission services must be increased.
Insufficient attention is paid to adolescents’ sexuality, while at the same time a considerable number of maternal deaths occur in young women.
Maternal death refers to the death of a woman during child birth.
In Zimbabwe, pregnancy and child birth are some of the leading killers of women, with 725 women dying per 100 000 births while 25 children die in every 1 000 live births.
“A lot of young women and men continue to have unprotected sex without adequate information on contraception, sexuality and positive and responsible behaviour,” reads the paper in part.
A gender activist, Beatrice Tonhodzayi-Ngondo, said there are problems associated with the use of contraceptives, but there is still an unmet need for contraceptives by women across the country.
“We have created an unmet need for contraceptives for teenagers by saying they should abstain.
“No one should have children when they cannot afford to take care of them. Contraceptives should be rolled out to everyone who needs them,” Ngondo said.