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Why The Abortion Debate Proves Women Are Still Considered As ‘The Second Sex’

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By Ishina Das

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” – Simone De Beauvoir

As a world, we have come far. From the removal of labels used previously with negative connotations to the positivity imposed with strong identities, progress has truly helped enrich the idea of acceptance and let many people breathe in a better world. Such is the beauty of life and the existence of mundane things, but why is it that in every waking moment, progress has been retrograding? Why aren’t we as a society moving forward but taking steps that push us back?

Pro-life vs pro-choice, female right on abortion concept

Even when the idea of civil rights was first articulated in the American Declaration and much before that existed in a vacuum since man lived in civil society, why is it that some communities still don’t have the liberty to make their own choices?

To be precise, the community comprising all women have been discriminated against since forever, but it wasn’t always so. Ancient civilizations had women (vulva owners) doing the same work as the man (a pen*s owner), so why is it that we regressed as human beings when we progressed as a society?

What a vulva owner lacks other than what they are refused from is absolutely nothing. And here lies the sole problem. For a long time, women (vulva owners) were subjugated by society. By society, I mean a society run by men (pen*s owner) to allow themselves to continue their monopoly over vulva owners.

While pen*s owners were looked upon as subjects – a thinking being, vulva owners were stripped of this subjectification. They were left with being labelled as thoughtless objects who required a higher subject to complete their role in society. While pen*s owners were seen as the default, a prime subject in society, vulva owners were considered as the “other”.

The denial of subjectivity gave society the free license to treat the vulva owner as a mere matter who had no feelings and say over anything. “Thus, humanity is male, and man defines woman not herself but as relative to him.” To deny her autonomy and rip her apart from her agency is everyone’s but her right to do so.

Agency, the fight for one’s agency is widespread, and it stems from the lack of bodily autonomy given to any woman. The autonomy one has over one’s body and mind is the highest form of freedom, liberated from psychological and physical oppression.

Bodily autonomy is a cultural notion that derives from the philosophical idea of personal autonomy. In this idea, a group of people who have declared their right to live autonomously will not face any form of sovereign authority in political or legal form over them. So bodily autonomy encompasses this idea to pertain that a person has the same form of authority free from any alien oppression over their own body.

Martha Nussbaum describes bodily autonomy as, “Being able to move freely from place to place, being able to secure against assault, violence and have a choice in matters of reproduction.

Even when personal autonomy is a recognized human right, it’s often overruled due to ingrained sexism and patriarchy in a society when it comes to women. Women are often victims of gender-based violence in the forms of assault, sexual assault, abuse, limited access to contraception, and no say in the matters of reproduction.

Just like how a person is given a choice to donate their blood even if it were to their sibling, or a corpse owns enough personal autonomy and privacy not to get their organs taken. A person with a vulva, on the other hand, is refused such liberty when it comes to abortion. Even when the being inside their uterus isn’t a fully developed “person” with distinct rights, a pregnant person is denied this choice in today’s society.

Trent Horn, who in support of Pro-Choice, differentiates the idea into two sophisticated arguments:

  • The Sovereign Zone Argument, in which a pregnant person has an absolute right to what do they want and does with their own body and the unborn child falls within the pregnant person’s sovereign zone.
  • The Right to Refuse argument was introduced by Judith Jarvis Thomson in 1971. It says that a pregnant person has the right to refuse to let the unborn child use their body to survive. Like how every person isn’t obligated to save lives by donating their organs after death, a pregnant person should be given that choice.

The open sexism and male dominance and the play of religious and cultural ethics degrade a person’s choice with a vulva and reduce them to just bearers of children. To tell someone that they “have” to sacrifice their Bodily Autonomy for nine months in an extremely difficult, invasive, expensive process to protect what society views as human life is unethical.

So what’s being spread is that a fetus has more rights than a fully developed human being only because they belong to a certain community. And this proves what Simone De Beauvoir wrote more than a century back; a century back and women (person with a vulva) are still considered the object who needs the subject (the man) to arc the profundity of their own life.

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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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