Volume 94, Issue 4

Friday, June 9, 2000


Misconceptions about the pill

The pill: Redefining modern society

The pill: Redefining modern society

By Antonia Reed and Rachel Houlihan
Gazette Writers

Today is the final day for 189 countries to reach a consensus and adopt a progressive plan aiming to achieve equality of the sexes.

For the second time in five years the UN is presenting a document declaring that women have the right to make decisions about their sexuality and childbearing.

"Some people forget that we are not just fighting for the rights of able bodied, middle class women," said Monda Halpern, an assistant professor of history at Western. She said she hopes the UN conference will bring equality not just between the sexes, but among different groups of women.

Every reference to women's sexual rights in the UN document is disputed. In particular, the Vatican and a group of Islamic countries object to sexual and reproductive rights for women. Women's access to birth control will likely be among the issues discussed at the conference.

"The pill gave women the basic freedom to have reproductive control over their own bodies and freed them from the physical strain of excessive child birth," Halpern said.

Unlike women in many countries, Canadian women have had access to the pill for more than 35 years. Marion Powel opened the first government funded birth control clinic in Scarborough in 1966. She prescribed the pill, even though it was against the law and police told her not to recommend it to single women.

"The pill has had the single most revolutionary impact on women's lives," Halpern said. It was against the Canadian Criminal Code to give out birth control until the law was overturned in 1969.

"For the first time in history, women were not tied to childbearing," said Gail Golden, a clinical psychologist in London. "They could be sexually active and not worry about the consequence of pregnancy."

Halpern said the pill had a large impact in influencing modern feminist movements, although she also noted this is often a contested point.

"During the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, the pill allowed women to have sex without the fear of getting pregnant," Halpern said. "But some feminists argue that it was more of a sexual revolution for men," adding men could then disconnect themselves from the responsibility of birth control.

Megan Walker, executive director of the London Battered Women's Advocacy Centre, disagreed with Halpern. "We've come a long way from the time when women's only purpose was to satisfy male sex drives," she said. The women of today can take pleasure in sex and enjoy healthy sex lives, Walker said.

"The pill allowed women to exercise choices and decide what happens to their bodies," she said. "We don't give women enough credit for making their own choices."

Golden also noted the attitude in Canada, towards women's use of the pill has changed over the years. "There was a time when women felt that if they prepared for sex it meant they were a slut," Golden said. "But I don't hear those kinds of attitudes very much any more."

While the positive effects of the pill are far reaching in the developed world, millions of women in the developing world do not have access to the pill. "Women need to have reproductive control over having children or not having children," Halpern said.

Some feminists see the pill as a Western imposition on women in developing countries, Halpern added. Yet she said she thought the pill could be a path to liberation for women in developing countries. "The pill enables women to more successfully plan their lives."

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