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Abortion? Shh! We Don’t Talk About That

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MyBodyMyChoice logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #MyBodyMyChoice, a campaign by Global Health Strategies and Youth Ki Awaaz to create awareness around access to safe abortion and women's right to reproductive justice. Join the conversation by publishing a story here.

Abortion.

A word which we all understand by its dictionary definition but actually know nothing about. A word we simply react to by raising our eyebrows whenever we hear of any one around us opting for it. The reason is simple, because from the beginning we have seen our society responding abortion either by judging someone’s character or by expressing sympathy. Hence, in the majority of cases, abortion takes place under a veil.

There could be many reasons due to which a person opts for abortion: pregnancy out of wedlock; an unplanned child; a foetal abnormality; pregnancy as a result of rape; or female foeticide. In India, there exist rural pockets where social evils like child marriage and female foeticide still persist. Minor girls, who are completely unaware about both pregnancy and abortion, are forced to conceive at very young age. Also, in many cases they are pressurised to undergo an abortion in want of boy child, where neither mother nor family understands its effects on a pregnant person’s health. For that matter, even urban areas are no less in count of female foeticide. There is an advanced and well educated population of urban youths who are opting for live-in-relationships and having sexual relationships outside of the institution of marriage. But both these populations (rural and urban) have one common trait, which is their non-cognizance of issues like reproductive healthcare or voluntary and safe sexual and reproductive choices. This obliviousness hints at an ample flow of information on pregnancy but paucity of information on abortion.

Abortion and its subsequent experiences are hardly a topic of conversation—other than for gossiping. Still, in our society, mothers or aunts prefer not to discuss these issues. This somehow further discourages those women who themselves have undergone this experience from talking, and being a potential source of information for the coming generation.

Today, in this convenient world of knowing everything with one click, we know about politics, science, fashion, medical science, sports, the entertainment industry, legal rights and more. But we are left ignorant about a medical incidence which could happen to any women, no matter if they are married, single, divorced, or widowed. We learn so easily about pregnancy and post-pregnancy care, but nothing about abortion due to the fact that pregnancy is so visible, desirable, and talked about. But discussing issues like abortion is still a taboo.

The Government of India’s Efforts Towards Good Reproductive Health

As many of us know, before the enactment of The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, abortion was criminalised in India under Section 312 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Cheers to the Shantilal Shah Committee whose efforts helped in decriminalising abortion, subject to a few conditions like termination of pregnancy can only be up to 20 weeks of gestation, and only the mother’s “yes” is sufficient for termination. In addition to this, there are clear guidelines about facts regarding who can terminate a pregnancy, where it can be terminated, and more. Also, there are a few amendments pending to the MTP Act, 2014: increasing the gestation limit from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, increasing the base of medical practitioners who can perform a safe abortion, and making access to legal abortion to unmarried women, to prevent them from falling in trap of fake clinics.

What Can Be Done For Reproductive And Sexual Health Rights?

Bringing awareness about reproductive health care can be done both at the macro as well as micro level is a must. At the macro level government’s efforts can be most efficacious.

The government has taken up many initiatives to spread awareness about institutional delivery, female foeticide and more. Now, it’s time to launch a campaign where both girls and boys should be made aware about safe abortion facilities available in India, its due process, legal validity of that process, and women’s right to reproductive justice. Also education about post abortion dietary and medical care should be emphasised.

The government should fasten the judicial process where plea for termination is filed so that pregnant women don’t cross the legal limit of abortion waiting for a response, and not, as a consequence, head towards quacks in both rural and urban areas. Also, our judiciary should design stricter laws and penalise illegal abortion clinics.

Sex education can be an efficient tool as well. In schools and colleges, basic concepts about abortion and its consequences can be shared with students to make them aware about when and how to have safe sex, and whom to approach in case of any event like needing an abortion or miscarriage.

Corporate houses can also start offering individual medical counselling facilities, where employees may come and discuss issues regarding family planning, and reproductive health, with their privacy respected. Civil societies may also participate in organising awareness weeks at these houses.

The supply of contraception should meet its demand by young married couples so that they can effectively manage their family planing.

At the micro level, family and friends should take the responsibility of guiding their acquaintances towards information. Mothers should talk openly to their daughters, both married and unmarried, about an incidence like abortion and educate them how to handle it maturely and safely. Also, girls who themselves have undergone abortion should feel safe enough to share their experience with their friends or siblings or on social media so that this can be a learning for others.

My heartfelt thanks to all those girls who have dared to come forward and shared their experience of abortion which shows that undergoing abortion can be traumatic, if it’s not a well-informed decision. Therefore women (of any class, status, age, or profession) should be well aware about their body and their choices. No one else than a woman herself should be given the right to take decisions about both pregnancy and abortion as these decisions will affect her sexual and reproductive health in future.

Ultimately, it’s My Body My Choice.

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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.

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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.

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 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)’.

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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.

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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.

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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