Posted: April 30, 2015 Contributor: PRJKT RUBY

Myanmar Women Face Reproductive Setback During Thingyan Holidays

The Burmese New Year Water Festival, known as Thingyan, is typically a time of celebration, dancing and family togetherness but for many single women this year, it could mean unwanted pregnancy and a lifetime of ostracism.

Typically on the evening prior to this Buddhist holiday, the government relaxes it’s restrictions on gatherings and many young people partake in drunken celebration. While the government has expressed a concern for helping the large number of unplanned pregnancies decline in Myanmar, their actions this month seem contradictory.

As reported in a recent column in the Myanmar Times, authorities have forced businesses to remove emergency contraception from their shelves during the celebration. What is being disguised as an attempt to help control the population, appears to be a blatant reaction to the government’s disapproval of the rather lax morals associated with the celebration.

Currently, officials have embarked on new legislation known as the population control bill. While unplanned pregnancy is no doubt an issue in the area, the supposed attempts of the government to help control population growth have several flaws. Instead of providing education and other resources surrounding sexual health, police and other officials are simply doing all they can to preserve the traditions of Buddhist culture. Rather than control population growth by providing easy access to birth control, they are perpetuating the problem by cutting off the accessibility of birth control and emergency contraception.

The recent ban was called a “special project” by police officers even though contraceptive use IS legal in Myanmar. However, abortion is not. By restricting access to EC, many women this year will undoubtedly become pregnant as a result of holiday celebrations, with no option for the morning after pill or an abortion. These women will have their reproductive rights stripped away as they are forced to deal with the emotional, physical and economical challenges that pregnancy presents.

In an attempt to protect cultural traditions and morals, the government cites the removal of EC as a way to protect women from a potentially harmful medication. Overuse of the morning after pill is a real concern in Myanmar but eliminating surely isn’t the answer.

With poor access to birth control pills many women use the morning after pill as a regular form of contraception which can lead to health issues if abused. Additionally women face the cultural issue of discussing birth control methods. Women in marriages are often uncomfortable breaching this topic with their husbands and because there is no law against marital rape, many are forced to have babies they do not want. This highlights  the need for easier access to routine contraceptive methods. Additionally, EC is an important back up for women to rely on if all other measures have been exhausted.

It’s also been reported that condoms have been removed from shelves as well. Not only will this further increase the chances of rapid pregnancies during Thingyan but also the rise of STIs and STDs.

Whether single or married, women in Myanmar who become pregnant have few options. If they do attempt to have an abortion illegally, many will die or suffer severe health consequences as a result. Single women especially suffer the consequences if they do keep the pregnancy. There is a stigma still attached with unwed women becoming pregnant and they will likely suffer a lifetime of being ostracized.

Essentially the government’s latest move has left women with no way to protect themselves against STDs and pregnancy in a region were population is growing at a continuous rate.