You Too

harvard

The fact that even someone like her needed to say this shows us how difficult it is for women to navigate and succeed in what is, essentially, even now, a man’s world.

All systems that matter—law, justice, executive, police, judiciary, medicine, economics, culture, religion —all have been created with the default being Male. (That too a Heterosexual Male, and on the world stage-  a White Heterosexual male)

All frameworks, rules and restrictions are mainly for ‘others’.

Even universal ones like ‘thou shalt not have sex before marriage, for example, is ‘enforceable’ only on women since men cannot, and do not ever need to prove virginity before marriage, whether it is by a humiliating finger test or an equally embarrassing stained sheet after the wedding night.

Men are never accused of infertility, they do not end up having to sneak into back-alleys to get unsafe abortions. When they get married no one asks them at every subsequent job interview how they will balance work and childrearing. No one expects them to put family first and jobs second. No one asks questions when they come home late at night.

Here are some fun statistics for India:

India sees over 30,000 rape cases, yet only 1 in 4 convicted.

And before you start saying women should not go out to work, go out to party, go out using public transport, etc etc, if they want to be safe, check this out:

Delhi Police Commissioner B S Bassi said 70 per cent of the perpetrators in rape cases belonged to the age group of 21-35 years. “Crime-mapping analysis of the city suggested that any woman in a locality is surrounded by between 250 and 400 men who would not think twice before assaulting a woman. Added Bassi. “… almost 39 per cent of the rapes were committed by friends and family members’ friends, something which cannot be prevented by the police.

If you have ever created an environment in which people find it acceptable to think that rape is the woman’s fault then #YouToo have contributed to that rape.

There’s more.

India has the highest number of child marriages in the world. Aka socially sanctioned child sexual abuse.

Child sexual abuse: 4 victims every hour. EVERY HOUR. 

Remember that crimes against women are reported EVERY TWO MINUTES in India!! And imagine the number that goes unreported.

And from our neighbouring country is a story of women routinely setting themselves on fire, yes you read that right, setting themselves on fire to escape the routine violence and violations of their daily life!

There are predators in every single field of work. Think about that.

No woman feels safe.

Ever.

No one is immune. We are told that educated women, ‘strong’ women, elite women are safe because of course, they hobnob with men who are educated, elite and whatnot. Well here is a story from young medical students from Mumbai.

Remember that misogyny and sexism are the starting point of this slippery slope.

If you think oh well that’s India. Still in the dark ages and all that. Well here is data from UK: Most women who are murdered are killed by their own former or current intimate partner. Yes. Intimate partner.


So if you have ever silenced a woman or girl directly or indirectly either by your own silence, disbelief, ignoring, laughing at or belittling, making a joke of it and sharing it with raucous laughter, if you have ever imagined that women and girls are not as human and full of incandescent potential the way every person is, then #YouToo have contributed to the entire nauseating and infuriating state of affairs that we have been facing for centuries.

If you have ever shrugged your shoulders and said–That is how things are. Accept it. Get on with it. Stop complaining. Everyone manages, why can’t you. What makes you think you are special? It is how it is. Can’t you take a joke? Don’t be so serious!

Well then #YouToo

Whether you are a boy, man, woman, anyone in power, anyone who really really should know better and if you have not yet, NOT ONCE raised your voice in support of this simply unbearable state of affairs, then when you look into the mirror next remember #YouToo

Because all it takes for evil to succeed is the silence of a few good men and women.

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Abortion is not “single issue”: The need for Intersectionality in Abortion Conversations in India

– by Garima Srivastava


garima 1

Intersectionality as a concept was coined by Crenshaw in 1989; “intersectionality was intended to address the fact that the experiences and struggles of women of colour fell between the cracks of both feminist and anti-racist discourse. Crenshaw argues, that theorists need to take both gender and race on board and show how they interact to shape the multiple dimensions of Black women’s experiences” (Davis 2008: 68).

Today intersectionality is proclaimed as one of the most important contributions of feminist theories, mainly because it helps us to move beyond the obvious and see various ways in which multiple oppressions and power relations interact to shape multiple dimensions of women’s experience.

An individual is not a one-dimensional being and its location at any point in time is informed by multiple identities. Women experience discrimination differently based on their situation. Intersectionality is therefore about social, political, cultural and economic processes that affect one’s life simultaneously.

In India abortion is legal under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) 1971 under certain conditions, however, the ambiguity around the same has resulted in its misinterpretation and denial of access to women.

On February 28, 2017, the court refused to allow an abortion for a woman who was 26 week pregnant with a foetus which would be born with Down’s syndrome (Rai and Sheikh 2017). Later that year a 35 year old HIV positive woman who was sexually assaulted was denied abortion by the apex court (Ibid 2017), A 10-year-old girl who was raped by her uncle, and found to be 24 weeks pregnant was denied abortion by the court on the grounds that she was too far into pregnancy and abortion at this stage will be a risk to the health of the girl and the ‘child’ (BBC News 2017).

The additive approach of the current law (which is also reflected in the International law) fails to take into account gender, caste, class and age of women and how these experiences impact differently their lived realities. Currently, the Human Rights treaties are fragmented into various treaties, which delve into each issue separately. So we have a Convention on Child Rights, another one on Disability and another looking into issues specific to Women and so on.

But in practice, the issues are not categorized and an experience of discrimination or abuse may be multifaceted based on an individual’s location at the intersection of oppression and power relations. Through an intersectional framework, human rights treaties and conventions can be made more meaningful.

International law needs to take cognizance of the role of state ideologies and personal beliefs and biases of lawmakers and attitudes of providers that are representatives of gendered institutions. What needs to be further explored is the impact of International Human Rights Law on the ground and its interaction with local legal systems.

garima 2

Individuals experience violence and injustice differently depending on their location in the nexus of power relations and oppression.  Intersectionality allows us to see how women experience institutional gendered discrimination and how it intersects with their class and social positioning. It doesn’t provide ready-made solutions but it does allow us to ask the right questions. Through intersectionality “traditional human rights practice and remedies can then be examined to see in what ways they need to be modified, expanded, and transformed to take greater account of such differing realities” (Bunch 2002: 116)

Only by taking cognizance of these structures and relations of power can we provide holistic solutions. It’s, therefore, time to reflect on the inadequacy of laws to provide social justice.

Human rights are a spectrum and not a monolith. Thus, realizing a full range of human rights requires moving beyond existing binaries and working towards an intersectional approach to human rights that is conscious of the needs of the most marginalized in society and is flexible to adapt these needs.


References:

BBC News (2017) ‘Indian court rejects abortion for 10-year-old rape victim’ 28 Jul 2017 (Accessed on 30 June 2018) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-40753409

Bunch, C. (2002) ‘Human Rights at the Intersection of Race and Gender’, in R. Raj et al. (eds), Women at the Intersection: Indivisible Rights, Identities, and Oppressions (pp. 111-118). New Jersey: Centre for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

Davis, K. (2008) ‘Intersectionality as a buzzword: A sociology of science perspective on what makes a feminist theory successful’, Feminist Theory 9(1): 67-85.

Rai, S and Sheikh, S. (2017) ‘India’s Abortion Laws Need to Change and in the Pro-Choice Direction’ The Wire May 11, 2017 (Accessed on 05 July 2018) https://thewire.in/gender/abortion-pregnancy-law-india

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The Youth Assembly at the United Nations

– By Neelam Punjani, Youth Champion Pakistan


Neelam Punjani_Youth Assembly.docx

I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in the 20th session of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations as a Youth Delegate. It was a truly transformative experience. The Youth Assembly at the United Nations is a forum where youth leaders can learn innovative strategies and fresh approaches to enrich their work in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 20th session of the Youth Assembly proved to be one of the biggest Youth Assemblies to date with the attendance of more than 1,000 young leaders from over 100 countries across the globe.

During my four days at the United Nations, I was profoundly inspired by the dynamism and enlightened thinking of the dignitaries at the splendid General Assembly Hall. I was completely fascinated by opening remarks by Biana Kovic, Executive Director of Friendship Ambassadors Foundation. She encouraged youth delegates to work together towards achieving the SDGs and inspired us to continue along the rewarding path of service. Additionally, at the end, she gave a powerful message as a slogan “I act, we impact “which means how an individual act by young people can become the driving force for a change in future.

The journey started with the guided tour of the United Nations followed by the opening ceremony. Throughout the conference, I attended multiple workshops. The few workshops that stood out for me and that I found most helpful were “Microsoft YouthSpark: makecode.com”, “Technology as a Force for Inclusion” both led by Microsoft, “Power Differentials: How to Reach the Most Vulnerable” led by BRAC and “Opportunities in Technovation” to create the world we want and achieve gender equality” led by UN-Women. All of these workshops offered very valuable knowledge that I will use in practical work.

This was an incredibly rich experience that helped me grow professionally in several ways. The knowledge, connections, and inspiration that come from attending events like this could not be more valuable. The Youth Assembly not only provided me a platform as a youth to engage with the United Nations and other key players in sustainable development, but was also an opportunity to make new friends, meet with various collaborators, mentors, and partners. These events help to keep us grounded while exploring new possibilities in our line of work.

I can honestly say I would not have had the opportunity to learn so much and establish so many new contacts without the scholarship offered to me. I would like to thank Packard Foundation, Pakistan for providing me with such an opportunity. The learning I gained from the youth assembly conference is going to stick with me for all my life. It was a privilege to have attended the Youth Assembly and an honour to speak alongside such distinguished and dedicated global change makers.

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Debating Right from Wrong: What are Medical Morals?

– Shreeya Mashelkar, Youth Champion, India


How do we decide what’s wrong and what’s right? Every time we read a piece of news in the daily newspaper, or hear opposing views in an argument, we make up our mind as to which side we support. We presume our decision is the right one, backing it with our own reasons. What makes us go through these decision making tasks? How do we come to these positions? Most people call it their moral compass.

We all grow up with an array of opinions and rules thrown at us. Everyone, from family members, to teachers, and friends, sculpt our minds, moulding us to fit into what the idea of what society deems right and wrong. As we grow up, most of our actions are fixed almost as if by default to these norms. The more we navigate through the world with a social moral compass, the more rigid and difficult to reform our ways of thinking become.

It is in the same breath that people often bring up the closely allied concepts of ethics and morals. But there lies a vast difference in their meanings and what they mean to each person individually. In many cases, the two codes, moral and ethical, coincide. For example, if the country you live in is attacked by a foreign power, your political leadership might have to declare a state of war, obliging you to fight the enemy. To defend your country is not only ethically sanctioned but also goes by the name of patriotism. However, if a person is a strict believer of ahimsa, their personal code of moral behavior is at variance with the ‘objective’ national code of ethics.

A very similar situation could arise in the medical profession. A medical student is sworn in as a doctor after undertaking the Hippocratic Oath. The Oath is considered an ethical code that guides the conduct of doctors. One of the things stated in the Oath prohibits a medical professional from performing an abortion. But given how far our understanding of medicine, the function of medicine in society, and medical technology itself has come, how much credence should we give to a 17th-century oath? The field of medicine is defined by myriad contexts that come into play while making a decision.  If a woman does approach a doctor and requires an abortion, it’s  the doctor’s moral duty to perform the medical procedure for her patient, especially since helping a patient in need with the knowledge and skill  one possesses , is one of the foremost duties of a doctor. Her conscience, although conflicting with the age old oath, will demand her to perform an abortion.

This choice of personal morals over ethical code in not limited to just this situation. Euthanasia is another such case which was at the centre of a lot of conflict, until resolved recently. Like abortion, it too was held in the wrong by the Hippocratic Oath, which disallows the taking of a human life. When considered, the Oath put at the centre the value of human life as a justification. But to sustain a life at what costs and mental trauma to a patient was the point in counterview. And thus the oath was altered and the law to legalise euthanasia was passed under particular conditions in several countries across the world.

Much of the confrontation taking place in the world is caused when individuals and societies seek to project their moral codes and make them the ethical obligations of others. In any profession for that matter, a person can perform their job whole-heartedly only if their action resonates with their moral sense. Following ethics blindly, separating our conscience from our actions, is nothing but regressive for the human race. Ethics were made in order to pave way for the future generations, to outline a path. A path meant to be questioned by people, to be forced to change its course like a river over time.

To follow professional ethical codes without applying our own conscience would make us only as good as focused racehorses. Of course, we need to consider that asserting our personal moral code on a patient in order to deny them essential services would be a violation of our larger professional obligation towards her.

I hope to see a world where people debate issues, hold their own opinion and have the willingness to listen to the contradicting points as well. A world where every person’s individual conscience is recognized as a crux of their decision making and where women are trusted to take decisions that comply with their own conscience.

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A. For Abortion!

Abortion Dictionary

The Abortion Dictionary is a fortnightly blog series and is an attempt to dispel myths and provide safe and reliable information about safe abortion and attendant issues. We start with the basics and cover a range of topics from A-Z, quite literally! Happy reading!


Abortion

The word conjures up a myriad range of images, emotions, taboos, and practices.

But what is it? The dictionary, quite clinically, refers to abortion as the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks. Since time immemorial, women across the world have used a range of traditional home-based practices to terminate unwanted pregnancies for a variety of reasons using whatever techniques, knowledge, and resources they had at hand. Today, the development of modern medicine guarantees women a method of safe abortion that does not jeopardise their health, or put their lives at risk.

As of 2014, it is estimated that approximately 36 abortions occur each year per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in developing regions, and 27 in developed regions. And yet, the World Health Organisation reports that 45% of all abortions globally are unsafe, which adds up to a staggering number of 25 million unsafe abortions, causing 6.9 million women to be treated for complications arising from unsafe abortions annually. [1]

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Much has been said about how ensuring women’s health and rights leads to all-round social gains – economic and otherwise. Indeed, the recognition of this fact is what guided the inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights as fundamental to people’s health and survival in the Sustainable Development Goals.

What then prevents women from accessing safe abortion services that are critical to their sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing?

There are a number of explanations that explain women’s inability to access safe abortion services.

One of the main challenges to accessing abortion services is the lack of a legal framework guaranteeing access to abortion services. It is well established that legal abortions are a relatively recent phenomenon with the amendments to criminal codes allowing for abortions only taking place in the mid-to-late 20th century.[2] Indeed, countries like Ireland have only recently won the right to access safe abortion legally, and others like Poland and Argentina continue to fight for the right.

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It is necessary to make available both legal and safe abortion services for women; a lack of legal option does not stop women from having abortions, it only necessitates women using unsafe and dubious means of terminating their pregnancies, putting their lives at risk.

The second major challenge to accessing safe abortion services is abortion-related stigma, which cuts across all contexts, continues to negatively affect women’s health and well-being. Accessing safe abortions is strongly influenced by the fear of being recognized by family and friends, the feeling of having done something “wrong”, and of misconceptions about what having an abortion means for future fertility and reproductive health. For as long as such stigma persists, so will unsafe procedures as women avoid trained providers in formal medical settings for the fear of being shamed or judged. [3] Even in countries where abortion is broadly legal, women’s feelings of having a stigmatized procedure can result in their fear of being judged harshly by health professionals, and of being treated as an outcast by their family and community. [4]

A number of other challenges such as cost, availability of trained medical professionals, robust health infrastructure, medical patriarchy all interact to make access to safe abortion close to impossible. Governments, medical associations and civil society organizations must spread the word about any changes in abortion law—most urgently to women, but also medical personnel (including administrative staff) and law-enforcement professionals. Unclear laws and service provision guidelines need to be clarified, especially where abortion continues to be strongly stigmatized. In addition, national health systems must create the required service-provision infrastructure and train personnel, as well as develop, issue, communicate and apply new guidelines.

Only through this can we ensure that women have the ability to exercise control over their own bodies even when institutional provisions exist to guarantee services to women, and no more women’s lives are lost to entirely preventable circumstances.


This blog has only scratched the surface of the debate around access to safe abortion. If you’re keen on learning more, stay tuned to our #AbortionDictionary series as we write about challenges, successes, and issues that relate to the right to safe to abortion.

Asian Dolls


[1] Singh S., et al. ‘Abortion Worldwide 2017: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access’. 2018. The Guttmacher Institute. https://www.guttmacher.org/report/abortion-worldwide-2017

[2] Henshaw SK, Induced abortion: a world review, 1990, Family Planning Perspectives,1990, 22(2):76–89, http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2135512.

[3] Astbury-Ward E, Parry O and Carnwell R, Stigma, abortion, and disclosure—findings from a qualitative study, Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2012, 9(12):3137–3147, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02604.x.

[4] Hanschmidt F et al., Abortion stigma: a systematic review, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2016, 48(4):169–177, http://dx.doi.org/10.1363/48e8516.

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