Sexual health and well-being are recognized as inseparable aspects of human rights, rooted in the right to health. International human rights standards require Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services to be available, accessible, acceptable, and of good quality. Yet, several people are either unaware of such rights or lack the agencies to attain them. India, in particular, receives a lot of criticism concerning its population’s sexual and reproductive health.
The Need For Awareness and Agency
Sexuality and its expression are looked at from a relatively stigmatized point of view in India. Even the legal stance around sex workers, same-sex relationships are ambiguous. The notion that sexual and reproductive health topics are shameful is rooted in our culture.
In rural areas, women are still isolated during their periods and subjected to unnecessary restrictions. The poor sanitation infrastructure in many rural areas also aggravates the issue. It affects the education of girls in rural India as they tend to drop out of school after their first menstruation due to the poor availability of facilities. Moreover, there is less awareness about the facilities they can demand to be made available.
The National Family and Health Survey shows that less than 18% of girls and women use sanitary napkins. Instead, a shocking 77% of women use ash, rag, newspaper, and dried leaves among other things, to manage their menstrual flow. This lack of awareness around sexual and reproductive health culminates as one grows older.
Firstly, as of 2016, 1 in 4 girl children in India was married before the age of eighteen. When sexually active they do not receive required contraception. The reasons being the same, ignorance or unawareness about the plethora of methods available and unreliable infrastructure to attain it.
More than 12 million pregnant women receive less than the four prenatal care visits that are recommended which is half of the number recommended by the United Nations.
Even though 82% of women give birth in a health facility, most do not receive adequate amounts of maternity care. Less than 40% of women do not receive postnatal check ups within 24 hours. Even fewer women receive the national recommendation that a woman stays at a health facility for at least 48 hours after delivery.
The lack of awareness and misconceptions about sexual and reproductive issues leads to zero agency from men and women alike to better the access and quality of care women’s reproductive health receives. Policies should first begin with making people aware that menstruation is a natural process, and with proper sanitation and medical awareness, it can be non-stigmatized.
Government Initiative to Implement these Rights.
The government of India has launched several initiatives to spread awareness and elevate the standard of health care in several cases. Some of these policies and schemes related to Sexual health rights have been listed below:
- Provision of free Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) to all People Living with HIV/AIDS by central and state governments.
- Implementation of the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017, and ensure non-discrimination and equal participation of persons suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
- Comprehensive Sexuality Education should be focused on, and information on ways to tackle cultural resistance should be found.
- Community health professionals, local health facilities, and peer educators should make CSE available to adults and vulnerable demographic groups outside formal schooling.
- Public education on the sexual health of marginalized and stigmatized populations like LGBTQI+, sex workers, adolescents, and persons with disabilities to help debunk misconceptions about sexual health and develop respect for human rights.
- Formulation of non-discrimination guidelines for hospitals that enables sexual health services to be responsive and respectful of diverse sexual orientations, practices, and gender identities.
We at UPAY acknowledge the customary norms and mindset that still prevent women from seeking menstrual health care that has prevented them from utilizing sanitary alternatives during their menstruation.
UPAY has helped the communities and the students we work with become more aware of their reproductive health. We have also indulged in sanitary pad distribution and provided counselling and mental health support to girls and families who require such interventions.
In the last year, UPAY helped over 3150 women benefit from their awareness and health care operations. We have distributed over 36500 sanitary napkins and conducted more than 25 awareness and health checkup sessions. By these operations, we have successfully increased the use of sanitary napkins by 98% and noticed an increase of 96% in adolescent girl child attendance within the communities we teach.
A source of empowerment
Having better sources for sexual and reproductive health care needs enables people to make informed decisions about their bodies. Having the basic knowledge about one’s rights can help prevent diseases and infection, but it can also be highly empowering. It can increase education rates among girls and decrease the number of unplanned pregnancies, maternal deaths, and unsafe abortion practices.
In general, issues related to sexual and reproductive health are rarely discussed due to cultural notions. There is an increasing need to address the dearth of awareness and infrastructure around sexual and reproductive health care in India. It’s about time we eradicate the stigma surrounding sexual and reproductive health and look at it from a healthcare and welfare perspective to foster a community of healthy and informed citizens.
Written by : Sneha Manoharan
Edited by : Ananya Shetty