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Granting Women The Autonomy Over Their Bodies Is The Only Way To Ensure Their Empowerment

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Trigger Warning: mention of rape, violence against women

Recently, a world population report titled ‘My Body Is My Own’ was published by the UNFPA. According to this report, nearly half of all women in 57 developing countries do not have right to make decisions regarding their own body.

It is hard to digest that in the 21st century, when we talk of gender equality and a world without any kind of discrimination. Yet, women are suffering to get rights over their own body.

Violation Of Women’s Bodily Rights In India

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill of 2021 talks about the termination period of pregnancy, but the law does not mention the woman’s right over her own body. As per this law, she needs the advice of doctors for termination of the pregnancy, which takes away her right to her body.

Marital rape in India below 15 years of age is considered a criminal offence under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but it does not criminalize marital rape. To file a complaint, women need to file a case under the Domestic Violence Act of 2005. So, according to Indian law, marital rape is not a crime. There are many petitions in court against marital rape, but the court is still silent about this issue.

Behind Rohtak Gang-Rape, a Systemic Callousness Towards the Survivor
Representational Image. Credit: PTI

In Arnesh Kumar vs State of Bihar, it was established that criminalizing marital rape will be the collapse of the social and family systems amidst the already existing biased laws.

According to the report, only 55 % of women are fully empowered to make choices regarding the use of contraceptives and give consent. Only 75% of countries legally ensure full and equal access to contraception. Nearly half of all pregnancies in India each year are unwanted. In India, only 10-20 percent of people use contraceptives, and those include mostly condoms. The use of contraceptives is considered sinful in some religions as the use of contraceptives is prohibited and natural birth is encouraged.

According to UNICEF, approximately one in four young women in India were married before 18. One in three of the world’s child brides live in India. Of the country’s 223 million child brides, 102 million were married before turning 15.

What Legal Protection Currently Exists For Women?

India was among the first countries in the world to develop legal and policy frameworks guaranteeing access to abortion and contraception. Right of women to make reproductive choices as a part of personal liberty falls under under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Section 354D of the IPC makes way for legal action to be taken against an offender if he/she follows a woman, tries to contact her to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest, or monitor the use of the internet, email, or any other form of electronic communication by the woman.

Section 354 of the IPC states that assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.

Many other acts like the Domestic Violence Act (2005), Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929), Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2013).

The National Commission for Women reviews the constitutional and legal safeguards for women.

What Can Be Done?

Women’s education needs to be amplified by increasing the gross enrolment ratio of girls in schools and colleges, so that they get knowledge of their basic rights and can take a stand for themselves.

Creating awareness about the use of contraceptives is necessary, especially in rural areas by creating a comfortable environment regarding the use of contraceptive methods.

India needs to revamp its academic curriculum and needs to introduce sex education as part of academic teaching. In India, most of the knowledge acquired about sex and the body is through adult sites that are freely accessible to anyone through the internet.

India needs to introduce a law against marital rape and must criminalize it under the Indian Penal Code. It could be a step forward towards gender equality and preventing against forceful intimate relations without her will.

Granting women their bodily autonomy is important to reduce unwanted pregnancies and violence against women. Bodily rights reflect empowerment of women and can improve the social status of women.

If our country needs to rise and improve its social condition then it needs to empower women as it would directly empower the family, which would result in a stronger Indian society. This can only start by giving autonomy to women over their bodies.

Women around the world denied fundamental rights over their body, which needs to be tackled to end gender-based violence and achieve UNFPA’s goal of gender equality by 2030.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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  1. Vikas Sharma

    Very good bhai

    1. Nitin Meena


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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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, 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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