Sexual and Reproductive Health – Trans(cends) Gender Identities

Authored by Dr. Pooja Hittalamani and Mr. Shubhendu Akalwadi , Dharwad, Karnataka

 

India or for the matter at  hand, any country, cannot be termed as strong, independent and self-serving if one section of the society or a class of people are still struggling to exercise basic human rights. The very same inalienable rights which is bestowed upon an individual, irrespective of ones sexuality or gender, in order to protect their dignity and well-being. 

The most vulnerable class of the society, LGBT community have been suffering in almost all walks of life due to the conservative mind set in society. No amount of sensitisation, awareness can bring about the necessary change in the thought process of the people, unless the same conviction is shown in their attitude and behaviour towards that particular group of people. Supreme Court has deliberated and decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), but the same needs to be addressed and enforced to the fullest.


We spoke to people from the Transgender community in Dharwad regarding their access to contraception and other sexual and reproductive healthcare. After hearing them out, we realised how difficult it gets to access basic health facilities just because of the stigma that society associates with people of different gender identities. 

The family planning services provided at public healthcare facilities have long been concentrating on contraception only for married couples. The question then arises is, what about the unmarried young people who are sexually active and need access to contraceptive care as well? How will they be protected from unintended pregnancies or Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)? 

Apart from this, the communities like Transgender people, who are also at a high risk of developing STIs also need to be protected by giving them access to good quality sexual and reproductive healthcare. This generally becomes difficult to access because of the stigma associated with their gender identity or sexual preferences. Transgender people need to be given more opportunities by making the facilities more approachable and by inculcating the indiscriminate practices among the health care workers. 

This can help them be more comfortable while they approach the health facility for guidance on safe sex practices and protection from life-threatening STIs. The legislation might change, the rules and regulations might change, the actual change will however happen only when the person going for healthcare experiences the change. There’s a very long way to travel and reach the destination but, the changes we make on the way to the destination is what will matter the most. Only when we let everyone cherish their shade of VIBGYOR with pride, will we reach our destination!

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Gender-Based Violence – A Hindrance to Sexual and Reproductive Health

Authored by Mr. Rahul Ranjan, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

It is a common notion that Gender-Based Violence (GBV) limited to just women. However, Gender-Based violence is violence inflicted upon anyone based on their gender identity. It is indeed true that there are numerous men who also fall prey to GBV. According to the Indian Journal of Community Medicine (IJCM) the data for the state of Haryana states, “In the present study, 52.4% men experienced gender-based violence.” 

GBV is also commonly faced by people belong to other gender identities. They are discriminated against based on their gender identity and hence are beaten up when they open up about their gender identity and expression. Physical abuse is also commonly faced by them. The psychological impact that this violence creates is so severe that it may sometimes lead to dangerous outcomes like suicide. A lot of times when people from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) community, wish to access good quality healthcare services, they are ridiculed, looked down upon, and verbally abused. This itself is gender-based violence. 

 If this continues, how will the young people of our country remain safe? The government and the society are both equally responsible for protecting them and ensuring that people of different gender identities lead fulfilling and healthy lives, free from violence. Their sexual and reproductive health must also be cared for without any discrimination. 

“Are laws made for Youth or Youth made for laws?”

 

Authored by Ms. Shivani Shukla, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

I have heard the term ‘Youth Rights’ a lot of times. A lot of youngsters say that they have been denied their ‘Youth Rights’. But what are youth rights and why are we denied the same? In my opinion, Youth Rights are those rights created for young people which will help protect us and help us live healthy and fulfilling lives. These rights may range from the right to be full participants in our representative democracy through voting, the right to privacy, the right to be protected from any kind of abuse or violence, the right to make decisions about our own lives, the right to be outdoors, the right to express ourselves freely, the right to education and information, and the right to receive the same amount of respect as anyone else. These rights and many others are denied to us because of what “society” decides as unnecessary for us young people to know just because we “too young” for it. Young people face negative stereotyping in the media as well as in everyday life.

Elders assume that we young people should not know much about “sex” because if we do, we may indulge in the same frequently. Sex becomes the elephant in the room which nobody wants to discuss because we young people, are perceived to be rebellious and stubborn and always open to experiment. However, what one does not realise is that the same young people need to be informed about how to keep themselves safe from any kind of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancies, as we have a long life ahead in which we need to grow and prosper. Hence, we need to be aware of the preventive measures to not avoid getting into wrong habits.

Youth is the epitome of curiosity and hence young people look for information in the day and age, on the know-it-all internet. But how much of the internet information is actually reliable? After all pornography is also available easily on the internet, which can give us young people wrong notions about relationships and sex. Hence, it is important that we receive information about sexual and reproductive health and safety through official channels such as schools and colleges. It should be an essential part of the curriculum because if we can emphasise on physical education for keeping us healthy, then why not sexual health also?

Hence, what we mean by “Youth Rights” is to ensure that we can easily access ways and means to keep us safe and healthy. And I strongly believe that people should not treat us young people differently just on the basis of age. Everyone has the right to information and education. Sexuality education is an essential part of this information. And not just young people, but everyone should have access to these types of services and information, without any discrimination on gender, disability, sexuality, race or culture.

Is Family Planning still a taboo in India?

Authored by Ms. Chehak Bhatia, Panchkula, Haryana.

India being second on the list of countries with a high population, one can’t help but think out loud that our country needs to further open its doors to family planning. In a country with a population of over 1.3 billion citizens, educating people about family planning, sexual and reproductive health is very important. Don’t we all agree?

 

But the sad truth is, these issues are still a taboo in our country. Family planning goes way beyond the understanding of “hum do, humare do”. The Government of India, over the years, has encouraged family planning through various policies such as the, “Government family planning, 1952”, “Family Welfare Programme, 2011” and last but not the least, its commitment to the “Family Planning, 2020 (FP2020)”. But as reality stands today, there is still a huge void to be filled in order to reach out to every strata of the society, especially the young population.

 

Youth being the “shoulders” of our country, and India being in the middle of the “youth bulge”, it is extremely important for them to understand the concept of family planning and sexual and reproductive health. And in all of this, the quality of information delivered plays the most important role. For example, while explaining the concept of Family Planning and sexual and reproductive health, talking about the need for comprehensive sexuality education and life skills to begin with, would be more beneficial than giving just an overview, especially to young people. These will help build the foundation for leading fulfilling lives.

 

Not every person in our vast country has the access to the correct information related to family planning and sexual and reproductive health. Be it the information related to contraceptive methods, menstrual hygiene, or the physiological changes experienced by girls or boys. In such a situation, incomplete, misguided or no access to information at all can be dangerous, and at times even fatal.

 

The understanding of family planning and sexual and reproductive health comes from correct information provided by an authentic source. Therefore, we cannot let the internet become the primary source of information for the youth of this nation.

Nazneen takes responsibility of opting for contraception after safe abortion.

Nazneen (name changed) is a survivor of domestic violence. She earlier worked as a link worker in an Urban Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC) and now works as an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA). Her husband had forced, unprotected sexual relations with her. This lead to an unwanted pregnancy.

Nazneen was not ready to become a mother. However, she was extremely scared of her husband. So she decided to access safe abortion services without letting her husband know. She was counselled about the basket of choices at FPA India’s centre. She gathered courage to discuss contraception with her husband. Despite all the pleading, he refused to use a condom. Since then, Nazneen started secretly using oral contraceptive pills. Nazneen has decided that she will choose to conceive when she is ready.

 

[Disclaimer: These are real case studies from FPA India. The names have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the concerned individuals]

After nine pregnancies, Seema finally decided to opt for safe abortion.

Seema (name changed) was forced into sex work by her husband. She is also a peer educator in FPA India’s project for Female Sex Workers (FSW).  Seema, who conceived nine times due to unsafe sexual practises, has six children alive, and had to face two Intra-uterine foetal deaths in the last trimester. Due to this, Seema had become weak physically.

During her ninth pregnancy, she decided that she does not want to continue to term. She decided to secretly opt for safe abortion at the FPA India clinic. In her words, had she not opted for abortion, she would have had to ‘face death’. Fortunately for Seema, the FPA India clinic provided her with safe abortion services and counselled her about post-abortion contraceptives. After this experience, she started referring other women like her, to the FPA India clinic for safe abortion services.

 

[Disclaimer: These are real case studies from FPA India. The names have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the concerned individuals]

Meena’s Decision to opt for ‘Safe Abortion’

Meena (name changed) got married at age 19, with her boyfriend. Her parents-in-law were against the marriage. They started torturing her right from beginning of the marriage. Meanwhile, Meena got pregnant and continued her pregnancy to term. She gave birth to a healthy baby. Meena and her husband did not want another child soon, so they opted for condoms as a method of contraception, without the family’s knowledge. Coming from a conservative background, her mother-in-law started harassing her and suspecting infertility. However, the couple continued using contraception.

Unfortunately, Meena accidentally became pregnant due to a condom tear. But soon after, she had a miscarriage. The couple shortly tried again for another child. This time, the pregnancy went to term. Within a year of the birth of her second child, Meena conceived again because her partner did not use a condom this time. The couple did not want another child and mutually decided to terminate the pregnancy. This time, they were referred to the FPA India clinic by an outreach worker. They found FPA India’s clinic to be affordable and accessible, and could get all information and services under one roof. Meena underwent safe abortion and the couple was also counselled about post-abortion contraception.

 

[Disclaimer: These are real case studies from FPA India. The names have been changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the concerned individuals]

Menstrual Hygiene – A right of every woman!

Quote Panchkula - Geeta

(Translation)

GST or any other tax should not be applicable on something as essential as sanitary napkins because this makes the sanitary napkins even more difficult to afford and access. This results in the use of cloth over pads, for many women. This makes women and girls vulnerable to infections. With the recent exemption of GST on sanitary napkins, there is hope that more women will be able to afford and use sanitary napkins, than before. I hope more and women get easy access to sanitary napkins and also get the opportunity to understand more about menstrual health and hygiene from FPA India.

 

GEETA,

PANCHKULA

Support FPA India’s Initiatives for Menstrual Hygiene Management

I support the government’s initiative to exempt GST on sanitary pads. I would like to share some of my experiences at FPA India, to uphold my statement. Being a youth volunteer, I have been mentoring a group of underprivileged adolescent girls. One of them was 18 years old and did not even know what a sanitary napkin means or looks like. When I enquired about the same with her mother, she mentioned that the high price of the pads was the reason for the unfortunate reality. So, according to me, a jubilant and vigilant step is needed for the upliftment of menstrual hygiene management for underprivileged girls and women, GST exemption playing a small part it it. However, there is a long way to go and I fully support the initiative to volunteer for FPA India’s initiative to empower women and girls with information on and access to menstrual health and hygiene products.

 

TANYA KOHLI,

YOUTH VOLUNTEER,

FPA INDIA, PANCHKULA.

Exemption of Sanitary Napkins from GST: A Step towards Women Empowerment

In a much awaited step, the Finance Minister of India, Mr. Piyush Goyal announced that sanitary napkins will be exempted from GST, post the meeting of the GST Council. For a year, the sanitary napkins were taxed at 12%, attracting criticism from girls, women, feminists, and the like-minded people.

The high prices of sanitary napkins hinder girls and women from buying them. Furthermore, unaffordability of sanitary napkins compels them to settle for unhygienic alternatives like cloth and rags due to a lack of knowledge and information, making them vulnerable to infections and diseases. There is hope that the move of the government to exempt sanitary napkins from GST will be a step towards a healthier and hygienic nation. This exemption will also further the cause of education, reducing the number of dropouts of girls from school due to inaccessible hygiene products.

Family Planning Association of India has been working to provide affordable sanitary napkins and also information on menstrual health and hygiene through various programmes. This information along with the affordable GST exempt sanitary napkins will be a huge contribution to maintaining the menstrual health as well as the physical and psychological well-being of girls and women and thus resulting in their empowerment.

 

SUMAN C. PATIL, 

BRANCH EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER (YOUTH), 

FPA INDIA, DHARWAD