The Israeli women’s organization, Women to Women, published a report in December 2008 about the widespread use of Depo Provera in the Ethiopian community. Ethiopians comprise just two percent of Israel’s population, yet account for 57% of users of the birth control drug.
According to the Health Ministry, these high rates of usage among Ethiopian immigrants are explained by a cultural preference for injections over pills. But this claim is unsupported by the data: In Ethiopia, there is a strong preference for birth control pills with over 70% of birth control users use the pill (as among Ashkenazi Jews in Israel). This fact casts doubt over the Health Ministry’s assertion.
To summarize the report, Ethiopian immigrants to Israel are bombarded with pro-Depo arguments from a host of institutions that assist them during the immigration process. When they arrive to Israel, many Ethiopian women are informed only about Depo and not about other birth control options by staff at The Joint (a Jewish-American aid organization), the Jewish Agency (immigration matters), and the Immigration Absorption Ministry.
More ominously, the clinic manager from the Pardes-Kats Clalit HMO reported that “the staff were under instructions to administer Depo Provera injections to these women, but refused to reveal from whom they had received these instructions.” Ethiopian women reported in interviews with Women to Women that they were not informed about the drug’s side effects and there were no routine follow-ups as recommended by usage guidelines.
The research of Dr. Esther Hertzog (Beit Berl College, Department of Anthropology), as cited in the report, provides a fitting conclusion to this story of racism:
The paternalism encountered by Ethiopian regarding contraceptive methods is part of a general attitude among service givers. In her research Dr. Ester Hertzog claims that assembling the Ethiopian community in absorption centers aims at state control of their lives. Ethiopian immigrants to Israel, says Hertzog, are considered as “persons with special needs” and therefore as an underdeveloped community. The social workers in these communities, functioning as social agents, saw women of Ethiopian origin as incompetent of fulfilling their basic feminine duties, including raising children and maintaining a household, therefore they were to be supervised in their daily conduct. Dr. Hertzog claims that the fact that the welfare ministry sent its workers to instruct women of Ethiopian origin, and not other immigrant groups, reveals the paternalistic ethno-centric attitude towards them.
(HT to DesertPeace for pointing out this story.)