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1.1. Background of the Study

The notion of the reproductive rights of women is increasingly topical in a dynamic continuum of socio-cultural and economic environments. This comes amid the United Nations’ recognition of the basic rights of every couple and individual to responsibly decide the desired family size, birth intervals and timing of their children, free from the limitations imposed by discrimination, violence and oppression (Cook, 2011). The national and international reproduction rights efforts are designed to improve the status of women, promote gender equality and empower women and adolescent girls to protect themselves against violence, the risk of HIV infection and the exercise of their rights to have control and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexual and reproductive health (RH), free from coercion, discrimination and violence (Amnesty International, 2008).

Patriarchy defines gender relations in Enugu State and conditions perception and practices of women and men with regards to reproductive rights and desired family size. Orisaremi and Alubo (2012) identified the pervasiveness of patriarchy practiced in most African societies as responsible for the creation and maintenance of unequal gender relationship. Gender constructs in Enugu state, and indeed in virtually all Nigerian societies, is based on religion and traditional concepts, values and ideals, and arrogate authority and leadership to the man. Gender relations and sexuality are perceived as vital aspects of marriage which require correct application of the norms and codes accorded. Hartmann, Gilles, Shattuck, Kerner and Guest (2012) observed an apparent link between gender attitudes and reproductive outcomes. In marriage therefore, the man is expected to make all the decisions including those pertaining to reproduction, including the family size, while women are expected to acquiesce. Thus, it is believed and accepted in Enugu State that the enjoyment and pleasure are the right and objectives of men in sexual intercourse. This is in contrast to women, for whom it is a duty owed to their husbands to satisfy their sexual drive and produce offspring that will maintain the family lineage.

In Enugu State the existing cultural and institutional mechanisms forbid women from turning down their husbands’ sexual demands irrespective of her fertility circumstances. Refusal of sexual demands by women if reported is viewed seriously. The woman is often judged by a jury of men and a few old women who would not even listen to her own side of the story. Since this is regarded as an act of grave wickedness, sanctions are imposed on her until she makes restitutions. This may take the form of cooking special dishes with her own money for her husband. In extreme cases she may be ostracized by the extended family. It is only during lactation, menstruation and in time of serious illness that a woman can justifiably refuse sexual intercourse with her husband. On the other hand, as observed by Okeibunor (2000), a virtuous woman is neither expected to initiate sexual intercourse nor express her enjoyment of the act. Thus, men primarily make the decisions in sexual matters. Since women do not have much economic, cultural, social and legal backing to negotiate their reproductive rights they usually quietly submit to their spouses. Consequently, women exercise little control over what happens to them sexually and the condition under which sexual encounters take place. It thus entails disproportionate disparities on power positions.

Unlike the Western concept of family planning influenced mainly by a materialistic view point, residents of Enugu state have emotional attachment to the number of children, fertility and consequently, sexuality. For instance, the number and sex of her children is an important factor in the evaluation of the worth of a woman. Accordingly, women do not generally insist on the use of contraceptives for fear of adverse consequences. Demand for the use of contraceptives by women in Enugu state often result in charges of immorality and sexual promiscuity. Most women, particularly the uneducated, economically and socially deprived women, having been thus socialized, will not attempt to control the sexuality of their husbands and worse still, find it difficult or impossible to demand for their reproductive rights. Sometimes women are even at the forefront of the indoctrination of the posture of men’s superiority and subjugation of women. Koenig, Lutalo, Zhao, Nalugoda, Wabwire-Mangen, Kiwanuka, Wagman, Serwadda, Wawer and Gray, (2003) also observed this attitude among societies in Uganda.

In line with the dictates of the primordial cultural order, the concept of reproductive rights of women is alien and not high in the priorities of governments and the traditional society of Enugu State. The government and its agencies generally are not often directly involved in issues pertaining to the reproductive rights of women. Women whether resident in rural or urban centres were, and still to a large extent valued as properties of the families they are married into whose main duty is to maintain the family lineage through procreation, particularly of sons. Therefore, women were expected to please their husbands and families, by living up to their most important duty – giving birth to as many children as they could. The social status of both men and women were enhanced with a large family size. Wealth and advantages were seen in having many children who were sources of economic and social benefits. Consequently, the need to regulate family sizes did not arise.

The dynamics of fertility are dependent on the existing socio-cultural arrangements that promote the reproductive behaviours in the society. As the socio-cultural situation in the country changes large family sizes no longer provide socio-cultural and economic advantages (Cleland, 2001), as it once did. Rather the high demand on emotional, economic, physical and psychological pressures on households with large number of children necessitated a new perception and attitude towards large family sizes. Thus, in the contemporary Enugu State society higher socio-economic level is associated with small family sizes consequently, individuals are motivated to regulate their family size by their desire to move up in the socio-economic ladder. However, the need for sustainability of the lineage persists, hence the premium on sons who fulfill this. Child-sex preference has substantial impact on family size. As a result of cultural pressures family sizes seems to be influenced by the expectation of women to have at least two sons in order to fulfill their obligation to the family. This study is thus interested in investigating the coping mechanisms that urban and rural women adopt in negotiations with their spouses (and how successful these strategies have been) in getting the desired family sizes.

1.2. Statement of the Problem

In Enugu State like several societies of the world, many aspects of reproductive rights contradicts the cultural and religious norms and practices with regards to gender and reproductive issues. Typically, prevalent cultural values encourage large family size and discourage contraceptives. Cultural norms and practices restrict the ability of women to openly discuss and make decisions with their spouses, (Blank, 2001). They are thus denied in many instances, among other reproductive rights the right to choose, in agreement with their husbands the number of children they wish to bear. Furthermore, there is also the high premium on the male child. Women are forced to have at least an heir and a spare, resulting in some cases to larger family sizes than actually desired, as they attempt to fulfill this marital obligation.

The inability of women to take active part in decision making concerning the desired family size, in Enugu has in recent times become a contested issue following the rising level of awareness among women on reproductive rights. This situation is not surprising in the face of low prioritization accorded to reproductive rights by the various tiers of government. Although the development of reproductive rights from Human Rights took its root in 1968, its domestication and implementation are yet to be achieved in Nigeria, at both local and national government levels. This is despite the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to this convention. The government and its agencies generally ignore the reproductive rights of women. This contributes to a general lack of awareness of these rights by the populace. Cook (2011) noted that through governmental neglect of their reproductive rights, the human rights of women all over the world are sometimes also violated.

Hence, the Igbo culture, to which Enugu State belongs, akin to most cultures, especially societies in underdeveloped countries in which patriarchy is generally accepted as the only proper family structure, fosters misogynistic conceptions by institutionalizing the subordination and systematic discrimination against women. It demands inequality in the designation of rights, values, responsibilities and access to scarce resources in the gender relationship (Gbadamosi, 2011). This nature of gender relations in the society is therefore brought to bear on all aspects of life, and thus, constrains the reproductive rights of women.

In the face of social construct of gender that puts women at a disadvantage, poor prioritization of gender issues by government, and weak policy protection for women due to the failure of Nigerian government to successfully put in place various international measures and resolutions which Nigeria is a signatory to, most women then device coping mechanisms to deal with critical health issues, such as family size. This study seeks to investigate such coping mechanisms, negotiations and other means adopted by women in Enugu State (as well as how successful they have been) in getting desired family sizes.

1.2. Objectives of the Study    

The main objective of this study is to identify the coping mechanisms that women adopt in their negotiations with spouses, and the effectiveness of these strategies as perceived by them in achieving the desired family sizes, within the context of the dynamics of gender relations and reproductive rights in Enugu State.

The specific objectives of the study include the following:

1.                  to examine how social constructs of gender in Igbo society affect sexual relationships and family planning in Enugu State.

2.                  to identify the strategies preferred by women in negotiating with their husbands and families in order to achieve the desired family size in Enugu State.

3.                  to determine if there are differences in the coping strategies adopted by rural and urban women in achieving the desired family size in Enugu State.

4.                  to determine the effectiveness of the coping strategies in achieving the desired family size in Enugu State as perceived by rural and urban women. These questions will guide this study.

1.3. Research Questions

i.                    How does social construct of gender in Igbo society affect sexual relationships and family planning?

ii.                  What are the preferred strategies of women in negotiating with their husbands in achieving the desired family sizes in Enugu State?

iii.                What differences exist in the coping strategies adopted in achieving the desired family size by rural and urban women in Enugu State?

iv.                How effective are the coping strategies adopted by rural and urban women in achieving the desired family size?

1.4. Research Hypotheses.

The following hypotheses have been formulated to guide this investigation:

 Ho1: There is no significant difference in the rural and urban women in the coping strategies adopted in achieving the desired family size in rural and urban areas in Enugu State.

Ho2: There is no significant difference in the effectiveness of the strategies adopted by rural and urban women in the rural and urban centres in achieving the desired family size.

1.5. Significance of the Study 

This research has the potentials of benefiting women of child-bearing ages, their spouses and invariably other members of the family and the society at large. This is because it provides data on the coping mechanisms that rural and urban women in Enugu state adopt in order to attain their desired family sizes in the face of the challenges of the asymmetrical social construct of gender relationships. This study will therefore be invaluable in providing evidence based strategies for interventions with regards to gender issues, as it particularly pertains to achieving the desired family sizes, free from coercion, discrimination and violence as stipulated in the Reproductive Rights of women (Amnesty International, 2008). This is pertinent given that reproductive rights of women when adequately provided translates directly to the well-being of the society at large (Pillai and Gupta, 2011).

Furthermore, understanding the contemporary concepts and practices with regards to family size in Enugu State whose population growth is quite fast, about 3% (Enugu State Government, 2004), will contribute to understanding the dynamics of population growth. This is critical for the Nigerian government whose population policy is geared towards reducing fertility and invariably, overpopulation. The data that will be obtained from this study will provide insights to workers, academics, government and nongovernmental organizations, who may require it for various reasons, such as policy making, intervention and researches in Enugu state and elsewhere.

1.6. Scope of the Study

This work will undertake an investigation of the ideas, values and actions that women employ in the confines of patriarchal gender norms and unequal power relations between men and women in trying to attain the desired family sizes. This will be done through the study of married women in the optimal reproductive years (between the ages of 20 to 39 years) in Enugu State. This excludes other women in the communities who are married and are outside the optimal childbearing years. Also excluded are unmarried women within the most favorable age of reproduction. Selecting only married women is due to the fact that it is only within the marriage institution that individuals are supposed to bear children, childbearing outside marriage is frowned upon in the society. In order to allow for an in-depth investigation, the indices of empowerment in this study are limited to education and earning capacity of women. This investigation will be restricted to four communities (two urban and two rural) in four local government areas in Enugu state due to financial and time constraints.

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