This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Shabana Azmi. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

“Are We, As A Nation, Failing To Make Women And Children Count?” – Shabana Azmi

By Shabana Azmi:

It is a little known fact that Mumtaz Mahal, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite queen died due to complications related to repeated childbirth. For all its beauty, the Taj Mahal is a grim reminder of the fact that, even after 400 years, we seem to have done little to improve the health of the mothers in our country. India continues to hit the headlines because of our shameful record on maternal and child health. UN statistics indicate that in India, a woman dies in childbirth every ten minutes.

STCOn the one hand, India is emerging as a global power and on the other, Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers table on ‘the best place to be a mother’ places India 73th out of the 77 middle-income countries listed. In assessing how we look after, educate and offer opportunities to our women and children, we do not come off well. At the same time, India accounts for one fifth of world’s burden of child mortality with 1.4 million children under the age of five dying every year. We lose one child every twenty seconds: what’s worse, most of these deaths can be easily prevented.

The number of women we lose due to pregnancy-related issues in one week in India is more than in all of Europe in a whole year. In other words, the number of women that we lose in one year in India due to pregnancy-related issues is the same as having 400 plane crashes annually. Can you imagine what would happen if that were the case? Governments would fall. But because in this case it is largely poor rural women who are dying, nobody is paying the slightest attention.

The question arises — are we, as a nation, failing to make women and children count? Or have we simply become numb to large numbers?

I’ve been campaigning on this issue with Save the Children since 2009. Despite our huge efforts to raise awareness of the daily struggles of families at our very doorstep, there is still a long way to go.

Why are we lagging behind? To be honest, it’s hard to know where to fix the blame: we score below average on practically every front. I can’t help but notice that our biggest black mark is the fact that women in India have only a 50/50 chance of having anyone skilled to help them during childbirth.

Statistics like this reflect on how, as a nation and a society, we treat women and girls: how we discriminate against them, disempower them, relegate them to the margins and once they’re there, neglect them. We’ve done this for centuries.

During my visit to a slum in Delhi with Save the Children in 2011, I met women too young to be mothers and health workers who have the tall task of ‘changing mindsets’ — something that will not happen overnight. One of the crucial areas that Save the Children has been focusing on is the importance of nutrition for both mother and child. Often overlooked, this is in fact the cause of a third of child and a fifth of all maternal deaths. Here again, we are not taking home any prizes. We have the highest rate of child malnutrition of all middle-income countries and the second highest rate in the entire world. A tenth of women in our country are undernourished themselves, and this is being passed on to their newborns from the womb as they start to develop, and on it goes.

The reality is that we are stuck in a vicious cycle. But with political will and increased social awareness, and with the excellent work being done by organisations such as Save the Children, I believe it is a cycle that can be broken.

The message needs to reach many more till our society is moved to redress this situation.

Taking care of our women and children, builds not just a generation but the nation itself. We neglect mothers at our own peril, at the peril of society. If we are to lead as a nation, we must put our women and children first.

These elections are crucial and we can change the scenario for the better. Make sure you #Vote4Children and join Shabana Azmi, with Save the Children India to advocate for a better future. Know more about the #Vote4Children campaign.

You must be to comment.
  1. Monistaf

    While I agree with you that women’s and children’s health is an issue, I also contend that the same is true for ALL healthcare, including what is available for men. The issue, in my opinion, is a general state of affordable healthcare in the country and is nothing exclusive to women and children. “We must put our women and Children first”, suggests that men’s healthcare can take a back seat, because, Somehow, men are more disposable in your view, or less deserving of our sympathy.

    1. Lamya

      Hardly so. Women’s healthcare is so abysmal in many areas that it requires a lot more push and campaigning. It doesn’t discount the need for improving health among men, but that is a different battle.
      When a lady is ill, she risks carrying over the disadvantages of her nutritional status and immunity over to the next generation when she eventually might bear children. Moreover, she requires special attention to her health during pregnancy, delivery and post partum, again relevant only to women. Most people would know to go to a doctor when they are feeling a little under the weather, but it doesn’t strike everyone to visit the doctor for something as natural as pregnancy and childbirth and compounded with a mixture of traditions that could even be harmful, women and children definitely require the extra care. And that’s just scratching the surface.

More from Shabana Azmi

Similar Posts

By Jaishree Malik

By Vanshika Bhatt

By Tripathi Balaji

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below