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Blogger Series #5: Health Over Stigma

Continuing our Blogger Series as a part of our Health Over Stigma campaign unmarried women from all around India are sharing their stories/experiences related to the stigma we face in regards to our body, sexual health & desires. It is only through starting an open and safe dialogue can we end the stigma and normalize these conversations. Read more about our Week of Action here.

As this story shows us we have internalized the stigma that it is all around us, it’s time we recognize it & call it out!

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One day, I was out at a chemist and there were so many people buying medicines so I decided to wait aside for a minute and let the hustle and bustle reduce. What I saw next was something I never encountered before. Two different women. One bought a few medicines and a cough syrup (I think). The chemist stacked everything and put in a transparent polythene. The next woman buys a packet of sanitary napkins and she pays for it, grabs the packet and is about to leave when the shopkeeper stops her. He bends down to find something below the counter, takes out a black polythene and asks her to put the packet of sanitary napkins in the black bag. Why!? The women was confident/comfortable enough to carry “pads” without having the need to cover it like its a taboo. But one interruption by a man (read society) just forces her confidence to drop to zero. Why is a there a need to hide things that shouldn’t be a big deal to humans? Why do women have to lower down their voice before talking about periods or asking for pads in a chemist shop? We’ve done nothing wrong. This isn’t a punishment. This is natural and if we’re ready to accepted it, why won’t others? I had read these kinds of incidents before but watching it with my own eyes made me question (backward) society little more than usual.

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Blogger Series #4: Health Over Stigma

Continuing our Blogger Series as a part of our Health Over Stigma campaign women from all around India are sharing their stories/experiences related to the stigma we face in regards to our body, sexual health & desires. It is only through starting an open and safe dialogue can we end the stigma and normalize these conversations. Read more about our Week of Action here.

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So this happened in one of the colleges of Delhi university about a  month ago. What really happened did put a black mark on an all girls institution like this. There was a case of molestation that took place, the victim was a first year student had just entered college. She belonged to a humble background and was having money issues at home. Therefore she used to come to college everyday with this aged man who worked with the college bank. He was in his early fifties, so one fine day, both of them were coming to college and he tried to brush his fingers against her breasts, she ignored it thinking it was a mistake but this man did the same thing, the very next day. She took a stand and the moment she reached college she told her best friend, she in return took her to the principal. The principal there and then called the police and that man was taken to the jail. All this took place and we thought that the case was closed but the bank people gave the guy bail and pressurised her to take back the FIR. What’s worse is that the girl was shamed all across the college, teachers started saying “why did the girl go with that man? what was the need?” Nobody thought of her mental state or her family issues or why she was dependent on that man. Everybody were hell bent on defining her character, slut-shaming her. It’s just sad to see that even in studying in one of the best universities this is still the situation. With the help of haiyya we just hope to cut down on the sexual stigma, slut shaming, body-shaming and all sorts of shaming a woman goes through. Because she is more than this and definitely more than what you think she is.

Blogger Series #3: Health Over Stigma

Continuing our Blogger Series as a part of our Health Over Stigma campaign women from all around India are sharing their stories/experiences related to the stigma we face in regards to our body, sexual health & desires. It is only through starting an open and safe dialogue can we end the stigma and normalize these conversations. Read more about our Week of Action here.

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I am 18. And this was the first time I went to the gynaecologist. My male best friend slept with his girlfriend this Valentine’s Day. They had unprotected sex and the girl was very shy to go buy an emergency contraceptive just in case. I went with my bestie to the clinic. The gynaecologist was super nice though she was surprised to learn that people at a young age do have sex. She handed my an i-pill and just then the door opened and an older lady walked in. She heard our conversation and kept glaring at me. The gynae asked her to leave as she was busy with me and hadn’t called out for the next patient to come in (the older lady was a patient). When I started to leave, the older lady told me that I should get myself checked so that I don’t spread my ‘disease’ around, and that ‘you could never trust young girls these days’. My bestie gave a tort in reply, “I think it’s your mental disease you should be worried about. We are perfectly normal.” It was kinda cool.

 

 

 

 

Blogger Series #2: Health Over Stigma

Continuing our Blogger Series as a part of our Health Over Stigma campaign women from all around India are sharing their stories/experiences related to the stigma we face in regards to our body, sexual health & desires. It is only through starting an open and safe dialogue can we end the stigma and normalize these conversations. Read more about our Week of Action here.

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” I once had a pregnancy scare as my periods were delayed over a week. I did not understand at that time that this could be normal or it could have been just changes in my body due to sexual activity. My mother behaved as if the world had come to an end and wouldn’t stop crying. She introduced herself as my aunt when we when to see the gynaecologist. That really hurt because it came across as if she was so ashamed that she didn’t want to be known as my mother. Was she disowning me? Was it to protect my identity? We used fake names to fill in the form.

The home pregnancy kit we had used earlier had been bought as if it was some terrible, dirty object that would defile us forever.I was clear in my mind that it was my body and my choice and so I was unperturbed to the point of defiance but at the same time I was scared too. I knew little about the procedure and how it would impact me. But the guidance and reassurance I had needed wasn’t available from anywhere.To make matters the gynaecologist wasn’t sympathetic or even concerned at all. In her eyes, I was just one of the many incidents of unwed pregnancies. In hindsight, I now realize she just assumed that. It could have been rape by coercion too but she didn’t bother to probe further at all. Forget counselling, I’d have expected her to treat me with at least some respect and dignity considering we were already shit scared but nope, that was not to be. When I went to the bathroom with the pregnancy kit, I felt a sharp tinge of pain – stomach cramps – a sure sign that I was getting my periods later that day. I still went ahead and gave them the urine sample, confident in the knowledge that I was in the clear. It was only later that I told my mother about the stomach cramps and how sure I was that the test would be negative. I was 24 at this time.” 

 

Blogger Series #1: Health Over Stigma

We’re kicking off our Blogger Series as a part of our Health Over Stigma campaign women from all around India are sharing their stories/experiences related to the stigma we face in regards to our body, sexual health & desires.

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” When I was 19, I had visited a renowned gynaecologist for weight and period issues. The first thing the doctor told her assistant was to ensure that my records were not registered under my name. She explained that it was their practice to avoid problems for her unmarried patients during the ‘matchmaking period’ since apparently, prospective in laws often looked into such things. While it was thoughtful on her part and I didn’t think about it much then, it really annoys me now to think that something as minor as a regular gynaecological checkup is made out to be something horrible and shameful.”. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Reality of Unmarried Women Accessing Sexual Health Services in New Delhi

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?

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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.  

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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

 

 

Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC) Interns

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YLAC Interns with Haiyya member Mrinalini 

Haiyya was a part of the new Young Leaders for Active Citizenship program through which 3 young women interned with Haiyya for 2 weeks. These women worked on our campaign on Young Women’s Access to Sexual Health Services and our event The New Narrative Smash Sanskar.

Learn more about their experiences below:

” Haiyya, being my first internship, was a very interesting experience. Personally, I feel very strongly about women’s rights and gender inequality. I believe that everyone deserves to lead a normal life, without being exploited. If their sexual or health rights  are exploited, which is very prevalent in our country, they deserve to know their rights so that correct action can be taken and they shouldn’t be judged for it.This is why I chose to intern at Haiyya.

While at the internship, I’ve been working with Mrinalini and another intern, to plan an organise and event that Haiyya will be hosting, that focuses on misogyny in Bollywood. Bollywood movies are what we associate with romance and drama and thrillers, but we never really think about how women are portrayed in these films. Smash The Sanskaar, the event we are hosting, plans to change the way people think about these films and how it influences our society.

As a whole, interning at Haiyya  was very interesting and knowledgeable for me, as I learned about what they do and how they plan on getting young women to know their rights, through their SRHR campaign. Even though I thought we would be doing more field work, I really enjoyed working on building the campaign and the event, and I  hope to see the success their campaign gets, by reaching out to, as well as  sensitizing our society.”
– Kavya Kalia
“I interned at Haiyya for 10 days and within this short period I learned quite a lot. In a nutshell, this internship has given me an insight into the working of NGO. This has taught the difference between saying things and doing them, about planning campaigns, mustering support, motivating people and most of all working towards what you believe. Haiyya’s campaign is something that appeals to me, on a very personal and yet societal level. It affects my life as an individual and the life of the society that i live in. The work environment was extremely friendly and inviting. I learnt how to take ownership of things I am doing and how to make your work, your own. Haiyya’s campaign has compelled me to think about the environment that i live in, in a critical manner and also to think about ways to change where change is needed. This internship has been a great experience for me.”
– Baani Gambhir