Question – Violations of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in India are often deeply embedded in societal values and traditions. Comment. – 25 August 2021
Answer – Reproductive health rights in India
Access to sexual and reproductive health and related rights is a fundamental human right. However, available data shows that women and girls are denied sexual and reproductive health rights around the world. 214 million women worldwide do not have access to contraceptive measures. Despite preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, more than 800 women die every day.
Often these rights are violated by abstract sentiments and cultural norms traditionally set and followed by society, which can be understood as follows:
- In a patriarchal society, women are judged on the basis of their fertility. This causes them to face early marriages and pregnancies, or to have repeated pregnancies over short periods in an attempt to have a boy.
- The concept of proud motherhood makes postpartum care of mothers secondary to the needs of the child.
- Menstruation is also an important issue with which cultural taboos and superstitions are deeply rooted. Further, the lack of awareness about the associated hygiene and health practices, non-availability of materials needed to safely manage menstruation, problems related to lack of access to toilets, etc. make it more complicated.
- Gender discrimination encourages the dowry system, which promotes prejudice against the girl child. It encourages forced and unsafe abortions.
- Women face the burden of using intrauterine devices, and also undergo sterilization/uterotomy, which leaves them vulnerable to urinary tract infections and other complications.
- Due to various stereotypes such as women’s sexuality and unequal power relationships, women are often unable to refuse sex or press for safe sex, which makes them vulnerable to several sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
- Laws of purity (generally sanctioned by religion) generate unnecessary interventions, such as female genital mutilation, forced virginity testing, and treatment of vulva. Family planning, abortion and the use of contraceptive measures are considered taboo in many societies.
- Lack of access to education ultimately leads to women’s ignorance of sexual and reproductive health rights.
Political-economic conditions, such as budgetary constraints on reproductive health, family planning, etc., reinforce the role of social values and norms in determining the availability of sexual and reproductive health rights for women.
Recognizing this, some steps have been taken by the Government of India –
- Adopting a Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCH+A) approach (developed to provide an understanding of ‘continuous care’) with an equitable focus on different life stages.
- The National Health Policy, 2017 envisages mainstreaming women’s health and gender issues; Includes advanced provisions for reproductive morbidity and health needs of women over the reproductive age group (40+).
- To conduct schemes like Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram, in which sexual reproductive health is one of the main areas.
In line with the declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, there is a need to promote women’s sexual and reproductive health as well as education to advance the goals of equality, development and peace for all women. Universalization of primary and secondary health services, standardization of antenatal and postnatal care for women and newborns, and several efforts through behavioral change to ensure a state of complete physical, social and mental well-being in terms of women’s reproductive and sexual health remains to be done.