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How Indian Women Are Powerfully Breaking The Silence Around Abortion

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My husband and I decided to go for the abortion without informing my in-laws because we knew they won’t understand our view and would have wanted us to try for a son to carry the vansh forward.”

This was the story shared with us by Malini, who was confronted by Indian society’s deep prejudices about women’s bodies. And there are numerous ways in which they show themselves. Like in Nandini’s experience:

Yes, the abortion was my decision but that’s what he wanted as well! The doctor, the nurse and the attendant, they were all giving me these judgemental stares, as if I had committed a felony. They wouldn’t give Sunil the same looks, but then, having an abortion is a woman’s brunt to bear.”

To mark September 28 – the Global Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion – Love Matters spoke to several women who chose abortion, some willingly, others forced. The one thread that runs through all these tales is fear – of the family, of the society, of the partner or the worst – the fear that emanates from within. This fear, the shame, the stigma and judgment makes millions of Indian women undergo abortion in discreet, unsafe, illegal clinics risking their health and lives.

India acknowledged a woman’s right to her own body by legalising abortion as far back as in 1971 with the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. However, the irony is that nearly 10 million Indian women secretly undergo abortion in India every year. Ipas India also reported in 2013 that unsafe abortions killed one woman for every two hours in India. That’s approximately 4600 deaths a year. Such high rates of abortion deaths and unsafe abortions, despite the process being legal in India, indicate that women are being denied their reproductive rights. This comes first and foremost from the shame and stigma that is associated with sex in India, especially pre-marital sex. And it pushes millions of unmarried women into seeking unsafe abortions.

As India’s first online platform providing blush-free information and sex and relationships, Love Matters seeks to push for safer abortions in India by targeting the stigma around it. We need for conversation on reproductive rights, and to enable that, Love Matters has launched a campaign called #ChoiceOverStigma. One of the ways we hope to achieve this conversation is through a blogathon, Women from various walks of life share powerful but poignant accounts about the desperate need for women to be able to claim their reproductive rights.

During the blogathon, Supriya wrote in about why this is so important: “Had I not had the power to choose abortion I would not be the person I am today. The person who walked away from a six year long emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. The person who finally brought an end to the self-destructive behaviour. that led to four pregnancies before I was even 21.”

Speaking about the need for such a campaign, Vithika Yadav, Head of Love Matters India says, “Women’s right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and services, including abortion, is grounded in human rights. A woman should be able to decide for herself what choice she wants to make – be it having a child, not having a child or having an abortion. A woman should not be judged and/or stigmatized for reproductive choices she makes. When women are denied the right to access safe and legal abortion, they are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, thereby perpetuating violence against women.”

In addition to sharing stories, we’re also encouraging people to help create an environment where women need not hide their reproductive choices. We’ve proposed a vox pop that explores young people’s attitudes around the theme “Should women feel guilty about their choice to have an abortion?”

There’s also the #ChoiceOverStigma photo series that explores the diverse reproductive choices that women make, supported by an image and short vignette pertaining to each of their reproductive choices.

Further still, we’re hosting an open mic event, for people of all ages to come together for performance arts, spoken word poetry and storytelling.

And finally, the Ice-Cream Selfie Challenge. Love Matters would like women to be able to make reproductive choices just as easily and without judgment as they would pick a color to wear, or their favorite ice-cream flavour and is thus.asking women to share a #ChoiceOverStigma ice-cream selfie, and encourage other women in their lives to do the same.

It is high time that the shame and stigma associated with abortion is brought to an end. The first and the simplest way is to start talking about abortion.

Why not make a start today?

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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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