6 Shocking Facts Show How India’s Healthcare Sector Is Gender Biased

NFI logoEditor’s Note: With #GoalPeBol, Youth Ki Awaaz has joined hands with the National Foundation for India to start a conversation around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals that the Indian government has undertaken to accomplish by 2030. Let’s collectively advocate for successful and timely fulfilment of the SDGs to ensure a brighter future for our nation.

In an average lifespan, a woman faces various kinds of discrimination. This rampant inequality has various facets – it manifests itself as violence at home and poor representation at the workplace. However, nowhere is this discrimination more systematic or pervasive, than in the healthcare sector, where women always get the short end of the stick.

The United Nations recognises gender equality as a basic human right, but for an Indian woman, it’s something that is continuously violated. Which is why India needs to do better – not only in the area of gender equality but in also providing better healthcare facilities to its women.

“India needs to do better – not only in the area of gender equality but in also providing better healthcare facilities to its women.” For representation only. Source: Flickr

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in fact, provide a great roadmap to improve things by 2030. Because the situation today is indeed bleak and lives of many women stand threatened because of the discrimination we practice:

1.  Disadvantaged Even Before Turning One

The discrimination begins right at birth. For the country as a whole, the infant mortality rate – which is the number of deaths under one year of age occurring among the live births in a given geographical area during a given year – is higher for females in comparison to that for males.

2. Not Given A Chance To Live

When it comes to gender balance, the infant mortality rate in the urban areas of the country is more gender-balanced (as a whole). But then,urban India is marked by greater access to abortion services, which increases gender-based terminations. Experts, in fact, believe that the educated living in urban areas are more likely to go for sex-selective abortions since they can afford it.

 

3 million girls, 1 million more than boys, were "missing" in 2011 compared to 2001, due to preference for male child. (Source: The Lancet)Data also suggests that urbanisation and better education correlate with a worsening sex ratio. The sex ratio of children ever-born (that is, including children who died at birth or later) to all women was 895 in rural areas but 878 in urban areas.

Amartya Sen, in fact, coined the term ‘missing women’ for this demographic and showed that in parts of the developing world, the ratio of women to men in the population is suspiciously low. He estimated that more than 100 million women were missing due to gender discrimination in countries like India and China way back in 1990.

Research points out that the “most plausible explanation” for the “missing” girls in the 2011 census is prenatal sex determination followed by selective abortion of female foetuses. “After adjusting for excess mortality rates in girls, the estimated number of selective female abortions rose from 0 to 2.0 million in the 1980s, 1.2 to 4.1 million in the 1990s, and 3.1 to 6.0 in the 2000s,” a research paper published in The Lancet in 2011 said.

3. Always At Higher Risk, When It Comes To General Health

In the reproductive age-group of 15-49, something as basic as deficiency of haemoglobin still remains a risk for women because child delivery and birth control surgeries involve bleeding.

More than half of the women in the country suffer from anaemia. On the other hand, less than a quarter of men in India are anaemic. “It is a cause of worry and reflects on general health of women. It has a direct relation with other health issues also, including those at the time of childbearing. We need to improve the situation,” medical experts said, when this data was first published.

4. Women’s Sexual Health: Hardly A Priority

Universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services for women in the reproductive age group still remains a pipe dream. This is despite the fact that India has pledged to ensure that every woman gets access to these services under the SDGs.

When it comes to family planning, for instance, our efforts again are aimed at controlling women. For example, did you know, that the ratio of female to male sterilisations has continued to consistently grow since the 1980s to the extent that by 2012-13, over 97 percent of sterilisations were being performed only on women? In comparison, just 0.3 percent married partners use male sterilisation as a family planning method.

5. At Higher Risk For Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing information and education on reproductive health are both targets that the United Nations has set for countries who agreed to the SDGs. Yet, data shows that only 21 percent Indian women have comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS, compared to 32 percent men in India. Fifty percent women in the country aren’t even aware that using a condom can reduce chances of getting HIV/AIDS. Of course, here too, men have more access to this knowledge.

6. Receive The Short End Of The Stick When It Comes To Nutrition And Healthy Lifestyle

If this is not enough cause to change things, consider this. The latest annual health survey showed that more women suffer from acute illnesses like diarrhoea and fever or chronic illnesses like diabetes, TB, and asthma than men. The reasons for this, researchers say, range from nutritional deficiency to lack of exercise, and increase in stress levels.

Needless to say, this cannot go on. If India wants to develop strongly and sustainably, it is high time it ends this gross discrimination. Making up 50 percent of the population, women have a critical role to play in India’s path of development. India should ensure that its health systems are fully responsive to women and girls and that women have access to higher quality and readily accessible services. It’s time to end practices that critically endanger women’s health and well-being.

Because just paying lip service to the needs of this very crucial demographic just won’t do anymore.

Note: The article was earlier published with the title ‘3 Mn Girls Lost To Infanticide In 2011: Exposing India’s Horrid Gender Bias’, which does not faithfully represent the data and research available. The section ‘Not Given A Chance To Live’ and the title has been updated to accurately reflect the research used for this article. The error is regretted.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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