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5 Daughters And A Son: When Women’s Reproductive Rights Are Conveniently Ignored

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By Kainat Sarfaraz:

Some moments get engraved in our minds and stay there for eternity. One such memory is from the day when I saw her for the first time. Oblivious of her own surroundings, she was carrying a broken pink bucket through a narrow lane with the morning sun rising behind her. She stayed in the slums near my apartment.

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Photo Credit

At 52, Shahnaaz Begum from Kolkata is a lonely woman. Household chores occupy her days. Mornings are reserved for fetching buckets of water for her husband from the nearby tube-well because he prefers to bathe in ‘fresh’ water. The duties do not end there. She has to serve her husband with hot chapattis for breakfast and pack his tiffin before he leaves for work at 6 am every day. He is a bus driver. She is a housewife who has mothered five daughters and a son. Four of the daughters are already married, and the son works in a nearby garment factory.

Giving birth to six children was not her choice. Neither was the domestic violence that came with it. She was happy with her first two daughters. It was her husband who wanted a son to carry his ‘name’ forward. Daughters, according to him, cost a lot of money whereas sons bring in a lot of money by earning or getting married. And obviously, his demands were of utmost importance. Thus she got pregnant for the third time and gave birth to a son. But just one son wasn’t enough for him. They tried three more times and as a result, they had three more daughters in their family.

Shahnaaz’s case is a classic example of how women in our country are yet to know about their sexual and reproductive rights. Inclusive of basic human rights, these affirm a woman’s right to have control over and make decisions concerning her own sexuality, including her sexual and reproductive health. Every woman deserves to enjoy her sexual life which should be devoid of any coercion, violence or discrimination. She has the full liberty to choose what she wants to do with her own body. However, most of the women in India rarely get a chance to celebrate this right.

We are living in the 21st century and yet the omnipresence of gender violence refuses to fade away. Misapplication of technology has aggravated the scenario further. Intended to be used to detect anomalies in the foetus, the ultrasound is often misused by people to satiate their curiosity about the sex of the foetus. Often, the decision making that follows the detection ultimately results in the highly skewed child sex ratio in India.

Unfortunately, women around the world do not have access to information that could change their living standards. Thus approximately 3,50,000 women die each year during pregnancy or childbirth. The figures are worse in developing countries. Complications from pregnancy continue to be the leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. This is owing to instances of early marriage and incest happening in certain regions as well.

Everyone has a right to make decisions regarding their own health, body, sexuality and reproductive life. But in a patriarchal society like ours, a woman’s opinions and wishes are constantly suppressed. The sexual and reproductive rights in India are massively violated. News reports dealing with rapes, child-marriages, dowry-deaths, coercion and sexual violence are a routine affair.

Along with protecting all people’s rights to fulfil and express their sexuality, sexual and reproductive rights also emphasize on the presence of effective health services and disseminating information related to it. For instance, very few women know that it is their reproductive right to decide the number, spacing and timing of their children along with having the information and resources to do so. And unfortunately, then, the story of Shahnaaz remains a common one in India.

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    Women not only report domestic violence, but also fabricate cases of abuse. On the other hand, men don’t report domestic violence at all, because it is considered embarrassing and unmanly to do so. Men continue to suffer in silence. Statistics will never reveal the fact that more men are abused by women because men simply don’t report it and no one talks about it. Also, there are no laws to protect men from domestic abuse.

    Bow down before your wife’s ‘diktat’, SC tells husbands

    When husbands are victims of domestic violence

    Why are so many MEN becoming victims of domestic violence?

    A Hidden Crime: Domestic Violence Against Men Is a Growing Problem

    Women More Likely to Commit Domestic Violence, Studies Show

    Men victims of domestic violence too

    Domestic Violence Against Men: Why We Need To Pay More Attention To Vulnerable Males

  2. Babar

    Why don’t we talk about the tens of thousands of cases where men wants to wait for kids, due to their financial condition or lack of interest, and the responsibility of children is thrust upon them by their wives.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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