India has been making progress in Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of women with a focus on curbing maternal mortality rates and population control through various policy interventions. Although these have been successful in achieving their goal the focus on Family Planning and not Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights has led to a skewed change that reflects social norms and doesn’t protect all women. The Ministry of Health and other experts are working towards a special mention of ‘single women’ in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, that deals with abortion. Why is this important?
Fear. Shame. Helplessness. Isolation. Loneliness. Embarrassment. These are the the first emotions that run through a young and unmarried woman’s mind if she has to access her basic human right; access to Sexual Health Services.
The fear is not about her health and her well being. Instead it is if anyone she knows will find out that she needs to visit the gynecologists. The shame and stigma around female sexuality and premarital sex is so high that women would rather put themselves at risk by avoiding the clinic then face this stigma. The government clearly recognizes that the stigma around pre-marital sex is putting single women at risk but how does it really affect women? Here are some stories from young women in New Delhi on how the stigma has married their experience with gynecologists.
My periods did not come on date after sex with my boyfriend. It took two weeks to come. But for two weeks, I was under stress if I was pregnant. But I was scared of going to the doctor, for the stigma it will bring on. Those two weeks were hell, for me.
– Aruna, Kerela
When health officials judges, it pushes young women further to not visit a doctors, which puts their health at risk.
My friend was pregnant. I went along with her to the hospital to get an abortion. But she received a lot of moral judgment from the people in the clinic as well as the doctor. The experience scarred me for life.
– Varuna, Delhi
Doctors do not have the right to deny service but they’re not in a vacuum. They have the same bias and prejudice everyone else in society does.
I went to a doctor to get an infection treated. But once she knew that I was not married and sexually active, she found it immoral to treat me. She asked me to find another doctor.
– Sunamika, Delhi
What option does it leave for young women when they are judged by the doctors who are supposed to help them?
I went to a gynecologist with my mother because I was experiencing some pain. The doctor took me to a separate room for examination. She asked if I was sexually active. I said ‘No’. She said “Good, stay that way.” It just scared me that if I had said a “Yes,” the doctor would have told my mother. I refused to see a gynecologist for the next 4-5 years.
– Sapna, Delhi
These are just some examples of what young women in our country are facing and how the stigma strips us of our dignity, our freedom and our sexual choices.
A group of women in New Delhi along with Haiyya are reclaiming their right to non-judgmental access and have started a campaign ‘Health Over Stigma’. 200 Defenders (Campaign Leaders) will be asserting their agency and power, mobilizing 10,000 women from different communities and holding 300 service providers accountable for safe and inclusive services.
The campaign launched with a meet-up where women shared their stories and planned a strategy to hold service providers accountable for non-judgemental behavior. Check out the video to see these women in action!
If you believe that young women deserve safe access to sexual health services and want to join them sign up to become a SRHR Defender, apply here!
If you have any other questions feel free to send us an email at Healthoverstigma@gmail.com