This article appeared in Burma - Women's Voices for Change, Thanakha Team, Bangkok, published by ALTSEAN in 2002.  

 

 

 

Lady’s Love Powder by Suzanne Belton (or Ma Suu San)

 

‘Lady’s Love Powder for Female Only’ cost me seven Thai Baht at the little local pharmacy in a Burmese border town in Karen State.  The pharmacy sells a range of home remedies alongside Burmese, Thai and other foreign medicines.  Packets of Thai contraceptive pills lay next to packets of Kathy Pan, a popular ‘menstrual regulator’.  ‘Lady’s Love Powder’ caught my eye due to the picture on the front.  The small white packet shows a voluptuous Asian woman in a seductive pose dressed in her underwear.  Inside the packet there is a plastic bag that contains a quarter of a teaspoon of bitter, white powder and the instructions are in Burmese and English.  Apply this powder to the inside of the female sexual organ, it will bring back youthful, safeness and flasticity (sic) in the vagina which will ensure happiness to both husband and wife in their sexual relationship.  This powder also cure Canarrhoeal Vaginities and can be used as Contraceptic (sic).” says the Lee Meng Ling Drug Company.  Was Lady’s Love Powder the Burmese version of hormone replacement therapy or possibly a new cure for the resistant strains of gonorrhoea found in this region?  Naturally this made me very curious and I asked several of my Burmese women friends what the Burmese translation said.  According to them it only mentions the vaginal toning and cleansing qualities of this magical substance and not the curative or contraceptive effects.  In a way I was relieved.  Lady’s Love Powder is cheap, quack medicine that can be easily purchased by naive women in the false hope of curing a problematic vaginal discharge or possibly preventing a pregnancy.

 

Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are problems that many Burmese women face with little support and a poverty of health resources.  Of course it is difficult to quantify such statements in light of the limited sharing of information that occurs between the Burman military government and the rest of the world.  One informed source, Dr Ba Thike (1997), a doctor working in Burma, reported that in the 1980s abortion complications accounted for twenty percent of total hospital admissions and that for every three women admitted to give birth, one was admitted for abortion complications.  She went on to say that these alarming statistics remained the same into the early 1990s.  In 1992, areas with low resources and ongoing conflict such as Kachin, Kayin and Chin states and the Mon Division, the rates were as high as one patient with abortion complications per woman admitted for delivery.  Abortion if early and uncomplicated can be a relatively minor health event but women can become unwell and some die from botched abortions.  Dr Ba Thike went on to say that in the early 90s another study showed that infected abortions were the cause of 60 percent of direct obstetric deaths and the women’s deaths were caused by septicaemia, peritonitis, kidney and blood clotting failure.  Women in Burma are clearly attempting to control their fertility despite many barriers. Only in 1991 with the assistance of United Nations Family Planning Association and international NGOs did the SPDC introduce birth spacing programmes and it would appear that they have not yet reached Karen State.  A medical officer working in Karen State in 2001 informed me that there was no birth spacing programme available but women were able to buy their contraceptives at the street pharmacies.  Women do buy the home remedy Kathy Pan that is advertised on Burmese TV ‘to regulate their periods’ and some may purchase the Love Powder, both have dubious contraceptive efficacy.  The drain on the health system due to abortions as well as the immeasurable burden to women is a sad fact. 

 

The records at the Mae Tao Clinic in Thailand, a health service that offers reproductive health services to women coming from Burma as day visitors or as longer-term migrant workers, reflects a crisis in women’s health.  In 2001, the Mae Tao Clinic documented 185 abortion complication cases (Out Patients Department) and 231 cases that needed to be admitted into the In-patients Department with complications such as sepsis, dehydration, haemorrhage and shock from abortions and miscarriages[1].  Of the 427 cases, 45 women gave their current address as somewhere in Burma.  The others were all Burmese migrant workers living in the surrounding urban and rural area of Tak Province who are Burman or Karen ethnicity.  The definition of abortion needs to be discussed at this point, as it is different from other places.  At the Mae Tao Clinic the diagnosis of abortion is used to describe any pregnancy that ends either spontaneously or by direct means before the seventh month of gestation. After seven months it is called premature labour or just abnormal bleeding (Ante Partum Haemorrhage).  Abortions can be categorised in several ways including spontaneous or just threatened, to currently happening or completely finished.  Women who experience a miscarriage or induced abortion can become very sick with pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause permanent infertility.  Most of the women who aborted and were seen by the Mae Tao Clinic reported being married and the vast majority were over 21 years of age.  Many of the women had experienced a previous episode of abortion/ miscarriage, which raises several thoughts.  It may suggest that chronic illness such as malaria and unidentified sexually transmitted infections, which are then compounded by malnourishment, are playing a significant role in the loss of pregnancies.  Additionally many women already had a number of children and may have felt their family was already complete.  Many women who attend the Mae Tao Clinic are unaware of modern methods of contraception or unclear how to use them.  Even if the women are keen to accept contraception they may not be able to afford to use it.  Most of the women seen by the Mae Tao Clinic are living in poverty and they are given a contraceptive method free of charge.  The economic situation of many women is extreme as they earn 50 Baht per day labouring in the agricultural or unskilled manufacturing sector in Thailand where unprotected pesticide and harmful work practices are common.  Thai employers do not favour pregnant female workers and this in itself may be an inducement to end a pregnancy.  An article appearing in The Nation (2002) reported that the Thai Ministry of Labour would not renew female migrant worker’s work permits if they were found to be pregnant.  This breach of women’s human rights needs to be challenged.  These are just some of the multiple factors that could contribute to the loss of pregnancies and Burmese women terminating their pregnancies.

 

Lady’s Love Powder blatantly suggests that sex should be fun and pleasurable to men as well as women.  I find myself quite liking Lady’s Love Powder...  Imagine if the Burmese military government would provide safe, cheap and effective reproductive health services at the community level to their population, maybe men and women could enjoy their sexual relationships without the fear and worry of unwanted children and sexually transmitted diseases.  Imagine if the Thai government supported the reproductive health rights of their migrant workers.  Now that would be revolutionary!

 

References:

Ba-Thike, Katherine, 1997, Abortion: A Public Health Problem in Myanmar, Reproductive Health Matters, May, 9, pp94-100.

 

Narida Suksanan, 2002, Pregnancy ban worries NGOs, The Nation, 15th January, pp 6A.

 

 

 

Suzanne Belton is a midwife and PhD candidate at Melbourne University in the Faculty of Medicine, Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society.  She is interested in fertility issues and reproductive health rights of women from Burma.  Contact address: Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society, Melbourne University, Victoria, Australia.

 

s.belton@pgrad.unimelb.edu.au

 

 

 

 



[1] Some of these women may be duplicated in the way the data was collected.