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Safe, Respectful Birth for All Women #EveryBirthCounts

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Ten years ago, Bangalore Birth Network (BBN) started out as most social change groups do – we saw a pressing need to empower women to have a better experience with doctors and hospitals in pregnancy, birth and postpartum and felt compelled to address it. We were influenced by our own birth experiences – some demoralizing, some joyful, some yet to be realized. We shared a hunger with women in the city for maternal healthcare that was more empowering, more humane and based on scientific evidence as opposed to fear and risk.
From the outset, we resolved that if we were to improve the birth scenario in Bangalore for ourselves, we would not be satisfied until we improved it for all women regardless of class, caste, economic status, religious background or sexual orientation.

Challenges With Birth Today

While healthcare is life-saving, birth itself is over medicalised, and unnecessary medical interventions are rampant even in healthy pregnancies. Cesarean section rates are higher than ever before and in many hospitals account for more than half of all births.

Other contentious issues include:

  • overuse of ultrasound scans
  • misuse of medicines to start and speed labor
  • pushing on the woman’s belly while she is pushing in active labor
  • separating mother and baby after birth
  • not starting breastfeeding within the first hour of life which increases neonatal mortality risk

This is a small part of a large list of practices that go on daily, without question and unknowingly causing the woman and baby fear and undue harm.

Women are led to believe that such medical interventions are a necessity, while there is no research or evidence to support this.

Women are subjected to disrespect and abuse during childbirth. Mistreatment is common in labour. Labour wards leave women with haunting memories of disrespectful care:

  • labouring alone without a family member at their side
  • physical, emotional and verbal abuse
  • non-consented care (being lied to, misled)
  • being told your baby will die if you don’t listen and comply
  • discrimination based on specific patient attributes
  • abandonment of care or refusal of care unless a bribe is given

Our work over the past decade, has documented that the situation is doubly bleak for women with limited resources. Birth experiences of poor, pregnant women in and around Bangalore are shocking. For women who come from the lower economic strata, there may be no skilled provider in their area or available transportation.

How Are We Changing This?

In the ten years since the BBN was established, we have played a key role in nurturing an environment where local families have access to birth professionals through

  • our service directory
  • access to feedback on doctors in the city through one-on-one counseling services online connections through social media
  • outreach events that create awareness and strengthen support networks

BBN’s Lactation Pilot Program

Breastfeeding counselling at government health centers is strongly needed. These gaps in services put already vulnerable women, babies and families at even greater risk. To address this, a certified antenatal and lactation counsellor visits the public healthcare facility, and counsels up to 30-40 women a week. This program addresses basic maternal and newborn health problems at the root, before they become life threatening. Breastfeeding significantly lowers newborn mortality.

Counselling Skills for 250+ Nursing Students

 The nurses training program is aimed at boosting the knowledge and skill quotient of the nurses with research based findings, and strong scientific evidence based knowledge. This is done by imparting short duration and high impact training to enhance counselling skills.

Maternal Health Survey

Private hospitals are not required to report their practices, procedures and outcomes, and government hospitals are poor at keeping records. In response to the lack of data on childbirth practices, we have created a comprehensive maternal health survey asking women about their obstetric, prenatal and postnatal experiences in urban India.

BBN is also working along with a group of individuals and organisations, to advocate for midwifery education and training, and create awareness among the general public as well as doctors, nurses and hospitals on how obstetric care can be transformed.

The Way Forward

We have worked hard over the years to keep a small, volunteer-based, non-profit fueled solely on passion, grit and the support of friends we made along the way. For the longest time we never had a bank account or money to put in it. In the past few years this has shifted. We are now a registered non-profit society, and two years ago we received seed funding to strengthen and grow the work and its impact. Our growth has been significant in the last year – the seed funding helped us move up our reach from a mere hundred women in 2007 to around 8000+ today.

To reach a wider audience we require further funds to target an impact of 15000 people (and more) over the next few years.

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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, 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.

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