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

Will It Take A Feminist Anarchy To Solve India’s Reproductive Health Crisis?

I would want to apologise in advance for using the ‘F word’, which is not a very popular term if one wants to pander to the sensibilities of certain readers.

However, one must know that aesthetics and sensibilities mean very little to a woman of a low socio-economic standing, who, after a lot of contemplation and worry, has finally decided to go for an unsafe abortion. That fear right there is universal.

There are proclaimed supporters of pro-women movements, critical thinkers – and then, there are those in the limbo of being unable to decide if women indeed need these consciously announced and deliberate movements. Some of these women are increasingly calling themselves ‘humanists’.

There are innumerable cases to illustrate the very obvious phenomenon of making women’s bodies a ‘gymnasium’ for those in power, so that they can flex their official authority, or worse, inflict their social authority on what should be an individual’s decision. For the sake of brevity and hope, I have picked only a few recent examples for your perusal.

The Triumph Of Misogyny

News agencies all around the world have been reporting about Donald Trump’s anti-abortion stand. He has revoked foreign abortion aid which translates to funds being scrapped, and this spells cascading doom for international Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) actively involved with women’s reproductive health or just offering abortion advice and post-abortive care. This has forced NGOs operating in developing countries to shut down, just because they are involved in reproductive health issues and are providing contraceptives to rural men and women.

According to Marie Stopes, an international NGO providing contraception and safe abortion services, this move during Trump’s first term could cause 6.5 million unintended pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions, 2.1 million unsafe abortions, and 21,700 maternal deaths. The icing on the melting cake of women’s reproductive health is the fact that about 1.5 million women can’t be given contraception.

The deal between contraception and abortion should logically be a sweet one. Safe sexual practices like using condoms or even the pill could do away with the need for abortion. In an interview, Donald Trump stated that he was definitely against abortion and even emphasised on the need for ‘some form of punishment’ to the woman, but later corrected it by saying that he meant that doctors involved should be punished by the law.

Oh the irony! Donald Trump signs the Anti-Abortion Bill in the presence of only male members.

The politics and vote-bank dimensions make this area a jackpot for Trump. This move was highly lauded by the white evangelicals (an overwhelming 80% of the demographic voted for the Republican Party), conservatives and pro-life activists. Note that ‘life’ here refers to that of the progeny.

Why Is This An Issue?

It is because illegal abortions are rampant in many parts of the world – a count of about 21.6 million worldwide and a 13% maternal mortality rate, according to a World Health Organisation (WHO) study in 2008.

Piercing the amniotic sac with a sharp tool, over the counter (OTC) drugs and even chilli concoctions are just some of the methods that are used to abort outside clinics. The estimated count of women undergoing illegal, unsafe abortion procedures could be as high as four million (two-thirds of the estimated count of seven million women undergoing abortion) in India. The economic and social loss to the community and country are only portions of the total fallout, which also includes the loss of lives and opportunities.

In a recent case, the Supreme Court of India allowed a minor (a rape victim) to abort a 24-week baby, owing to the abnormality of the foetus and the possible physical and mental danger to both mother and progeny. This was seen as a landmark judgement owing to the fact that even under special circumstances, abortion within a maximum period of only 20 weeks is legally permissible.

“Amidst the swarm of debates, judgements and reactions, it is apparent that society still has a claim to the uterus and the bodies of women.”

There have been enough reports about mothers succumbing to risky pregnancies as they are not allowed to go in for abortion, as seen in the infamous case of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. She died of a septic miscarriage after a 17 weeks’ gestation period, as she was denied an abortion in Ireland, owing to the country’s abortion laws.

Illegal abortions performed in decrepit clinics are an entirely grim saga of their own. Religion, policy, law, medicine and society turn out to be the bane of a woman’s life – literally! Such incidents are a flagrant violation of not just the right of a woman, but also the basic right of a human to ensure self-preservation. This is a greater implication on humanity and choice. It is not just about the laws, abortion or women. It is about exercising the freedom of one’s body. This should be a right, and not a privilege.

Missing The Forest For The Trees

In India, the new Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2016 proposes to make commercial surrogacy/rent-a-womb unlawful. It also aims at making altruistic surrogacy available only for those Indian couples who have been married for a minimum of five years and can’t have children naturally or through other listed reproductive technologies. This means that such a couple can approach a close relative of theirs, a willing woman between 25-35 years of age who is married and has already birthed a child, and shall therefore not be a surrogate mother more than once in her lifetime. This is quite the stalemate for couples seeking children.

The government states that its intention is to curb monetary exploitation by way of coercion and safeguard the health of socio-economically backward women, who account for the majority of surrogate mothers in the commercial surrogacy market, besides also protecting the child from abandonment and legal disputes. Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister and a supporter of this Union bill, was dismissive of celebrities going in for surrogacy when she said: “I am sad to say that what was started to fulfil a necessity is now treated as fashion.

According to surveys, the cost of a surrogacy is about ₹10 lakhs and surrogate mothers earn up to ₹4 lakhs. The impoverished surrogates who rent their womb earn an amount which is worth more than 10 years’ of their normal salaries. This is a typical example of how power in the hands (of even a woman) misses the forest for the trees in addressing real world problems. Dogma refuses to see the ramifications of these actions in the lives of people who will be hit the hardest.

“Bra-burning, second-wave feminism, guerilla movements are all ridiculed for their forced intensities, but are they more intense than putting a woman’s life in peril?”

Are these more intense than denying her an opportunity? Are these more ridiculous than a bunch of misinformed politicians trying to pass judgement on an issue they don’t understand?

The day of anarchy isn’t far. Those with resources and access to information will find a way; those without will increasingly go to more shadowy by-lanes and adopt unsafe practices. In a system that is unfavourable to one’s own existence, a feminist anarchy is inevitable and necessary.

Bribes will be paid, laws will be flouted. Illegally safeguarding one’s well-being will come to be accepted as morally right. As it is, the world doesn’t have a lot of alternative options to choose from.


Image Source : Mazi Nwankama Nwankama, Victor Mangbon/Facebook
You must be to comment.

More from Roshni Kalyan

Similar Posts

By Soumita Sen

By Accountability Initiative

By Sajad Rasool

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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