Freedom which is Restricted and Violated from Us.

Lakmini Prabani Perera, Youth Champion, Sri Lanka


On the occasion of Independence Day in Sri Lanka, our Youth Champion reflects on what it means to be free, and the need to build partnerships across anti-colonial and feminist movements to achieve true freedom.  


To what extent are we independent as a nation or as people? I believe, as a citizen of Sri Lanka, that you might have asked this question more than once to yourself.

Sri Lanka annually celebrates its Independence Day on the 4th of February. This celebration is to remember the struggles of history and to celebrate our independence from the colonial rule of the Portuguese, Dutch and especially over the British, in the year 1948. Today we celebrate Independence Day by hoisting the national flag, with speeches by people in power, and with a parade of the military.

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The Lankan political system and laws were made and shaped by the British colonial rule from 1801. In 1931, the Constitution gave some sort of authority to the native citizens who were elected. It was on 16th of May, 1972 when the country was officially declared as an independent republic. The Constitution which is currently in force gave more authority and equality for native ethnic groups. For these past years, the Constitution has been amended several times and yet bears the shape and signs of colonialism and oppression.

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Whenever Sri Lanka tried to progress there have been barriers, where we are still fighting to find our own identity, respect, equality and justice for all citizens. National unity, rights of minorities, women’s rights, the centralization of political power, and judicial dependence and politicization, are some of the issues and challenges that we are facing as a nation and where we cannot say we are experiencing the true meaning of freedom.

Looking at a normal day in Sri Lanka, just only from reported cases in newspapers, we see that many civilians in our country are suffering, are vulnerable, and are not free from violence. That means every individual in this land isn’t living a life which is free. Especially women and girls have become more vulnerable in this situation. Simply being at home, in schools, workplaces, police stations, government offices, schools, courts, buses, trains, streets make them open for discrimination, exploitation and violence. As the Women’s U.N. Report Network, 2015 mentions 30% – 40% of women in Sri Lanka suffer from some kind of violence while 60% of women across Sri Lanka are victims of domestic violence.

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According to UNFPA female participation for foreign employment was 51.73%, total of 247,119 in 2009. The violence and discrimination they have to go through has increased with the numbers and women and girls who are working in Sri Lanka.

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Recently a woman candidate in Wellawaye area in Monaragala District was attacked while she was involved in the election campaign. This shows that the country doesn’t have a free environment for individuals to engage in politics freely. According to UNFPA, women’s representation in parliament was 5.8% in 2010, 4.1% in provincial councils in 2009 and 1.8% in local councils in 2006. Could this be any better when there is no assurance for free and just political and civil rights in the country?

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Women were entitled to purchase liquor under Sri Lankan law from 08th of Jan, 2018 where President rejected this decision and the Cabinet banned women from purchasing liquor from 16th of Jan, 2018. Are women in Sri Lanka enjoying equal rights or the nondiscrimination on the grounds of sex as guaranteed by the constitution?

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Even the amendments on abortion laws are on hold to please men in this country. According to Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka, 700 plus abortions take place daily in Sri Lanka which takes place in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. This risks women’s lives because of health complications, septic abortions, infertility and even by death. As the Family Health Bureau emphasises maternal deaths due to septic abortion are the third highest reason (13%) for maternal deaths. Women are not in a position to decide when to be pregnant and to decide and terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Whether the women get access to medical information and services to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is highly doubtable in a country where purchasing liquor was ban for women by the President.

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Women are most vulnerable in every genre of the society, every institute and where they are treated without respect and dignity. The years of violence and oppression has not let them achieve their fullest potentials and real essence of freedom. Here is a promised land where women has to risk almost everything to decide for themselves.

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I hope this is the right time for us to go forward courageously to the Day of Freedom for all Sri Lankans. I will with all of you dream for that day!

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Abortion in India: Changing Legal Contexts and Challenges

Four decades after legalization of abortion, poor women in India still do not have access to safe abortion services. Part of addressing this challenge requires an understanding of the legal framework for liberalizing abortion, starting with the MTP Act of 1971, the subsequent shifts in context. We attempt to do this through our two part blog series that focuses first on the Act itself and its shortcomings, and calls attention to other challenges to the regulatory framework in the second blog. The first blog in the two-part series can be read here

 This is excerpted from the speech given by Dr Saroj Pachauri on the occasion of the Global Health Strategies meeting held on the 24th of November, 2017 in New Delhi, India.


As we set out in the previous blog, despite the MTP Act, unsafe abortions far outnumber safe, legal procedures. Part of these concerns were sought to be addressed through the amendment of the MTP Act towards which considerable research and advocacy was dedicated.

The MTP Amendment Act of 2002 decentralized the regulation of abortion facilities from the State to District Level Committees. It also allowed Registered Medical Practitioners to provide medical pill abortions up to 7 weeks of pregnancy in a facility approved for providing abortion services.

A second round of amendments was proposed under the MTP Bill of 2014, which attempted to further liberalize the Act. It proposed an extension of permissible abortions from 20 to 24 weeks, and an exception to the time limit for termination in case of fetal abnormalities. It also proposed approval for Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Yunani, and Siddha practitioners to carryout Medical Abortion.

However, in May 2017 the Prime Minister’s Office sent the Bill back to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare with the recommendation to strengthen the draft, and the recommendations remain un-tabled.

While these efforts to amend the MTP Act were underway, simultaneously, other abortion-related processes complicated the picture, creating new barriers to safe abortion care.

The first of these was the furore around the issue of sex-selective abortions, which also captured a large media following. A result of this agitation was the Pre-Conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, passed in 1994.

Second, stemming from concern for child sexual abuse the more recent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act was passed in 2012.

There are serious conflicts in the framing of the MTP Act, the PCPNDT Act, and the POCSO Act. This is made worse by the fact that there is a lack of clear understanding of these Acts, not only among the users of services, but also among government officials (gatekeepers), and the providers of services.

For instance, officials carrying out stringent inspections to curb sex determination, end up clamping down on MTP Centers and gynaecologists legally qualified to provide abortion services. This has led to many qualified practitioners now being guarded in providing abortion services, especially during the second trimester, posing a major challenge to women trying to access services.

Similarly, the POCSO Act was passed to strengthen legal provisions for the protection of children below 18 years of age from sexual abuse and exploitation. Under this Act, if any girl under 18 is seeking abortion the service provider is compelled to register a complaint of sexual assault with the police. Consequently, service providers are hesitant to provide abortion services to girls under 18. Given that in this country some 45%-47% of girls get married under 18 years of age, this presents a huge problem. Thus, it is evident that the implementation of these Acts has unfortunately become major barriers to the effective implementation of the MTP Act resulting in further limiting access to safe abortion services in India.

Clearly, there is an urgent need to strengthen the MTP Act, and review and amend the conflation among the three Acts. And most importantly, to improve the understanding of the users, providers, gatekeepers, and all stakeholders of these three Acts.

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Abortion in India: The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

Four decades after legalization of abortion, poor women in India still do not have access to safe abortion services. Part of addressing this challenge requires an understanding of the legal framework for liberalizing abortion, starting with the MTP Act of 1971, the subsequent shifts in context. We attempt to do this through our two part blog series that focuses first on the Act itself and its shortcomings, and calls attention to other challenges to the regulatory framework in the second blog.

This is excerpted from the speech given by Dr Saroj Pachauri on the occasion of the Global Health Strategies meeting held on the 24th of November, 2017 in New Delhi, India. Dr. Pachauri is a Population Council Distinguished Scholar.


The passing of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971, was a landmark in the legalization of abortion in India. The act was the culmination of a decade’s worth of public debate that started in the early 1960’s and led to the setting up of the Shanti Lal Shah Committee. The Committee submitted a positive report on the need to liberalize and legalize abortion, and resulted in discussions of appropriate regulatory frameworks and laws. The unanimously adopted MTP Act of 1971 is a result of that debate.

The MTP Act of 1971 permits the termination of pregnancy in the following two cases:

  • Where continuation of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health; and
  • Where substantial risk exists of the child being born with serious physical or mental abnormality.

 Further, pregnancy caused due to rape or due to the failure of contraceptive methods also falls under the ambit of the Act, as the “anguish caused by such unwanted pregnancy may be presumed to contribute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.

Since the Indian Penal Code criminalizes abortion, this Act served to allow exceptions under certain conditions.

The origin of the MTP Act and the changes in regulatory controls on abortion stemmed initially from concerns about high maternal mortality in India, and the process was led by the medical community. Thus, the MTP Act is a highly medicalized Act.

Its twin objectives were:

  • The liberalization of the grounds on which abortions were possible, and
  • Strict controls for the conduct of the procedure, which would ensure that only legally recognized, skilled medical practitioners could provide it.

However, despite the presence of such a liberal law, at least 60% of all abortions seem to be conducted outside the legal system. The question remains, why?

Part of the explanation lies in the fact that although the law was conceptualized in the interest of women, and with the full support of the medical community, it relied on a vision of a far too idealistic healthcare system, rather than what was available in reality. On the ground, healthcare service provision was far less organized and regulated than what was assumed.

Moreover, the Act while liberal in its mandate, has several restrictions that relate to who can provide abortion services and where; abortion services can be provided by a Registered Medical Practitioner, at a registered facility, within 20 weeks of pregnancy. Consequently, one of the impacts of the rules and regulations drawn up under the MTP to safeguard women strangled the growth of services.

Furthermore, the context for the delivery of reproductive health services for women has changed significantly over the past decades. When the MTP Act was passed, the legal context was NOT the Government’s recognition of women’s rights to control their own sexuality, fertility, and reproduction, which, arguably, it is today.

Thus, the ideological underpinnings of the concept then and now are radically different.

Therefore, despite being a landmark in social legislation in 1971, the MTP Act has failed to translate into reality for the majority of Indian women, particularly the rural poor.


In the next part we call attention to how subsequent changes in the larger legal framework and attempts to amend the MTP Act itself, further complicate the situation.

 

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Best of 2017 – the ASAP Blog

2017 has been a tumultuous year as far as the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The ASAP blog has mirrored a lot of these debates and concerns. As the year comes to a close, we bring you a round-up of the top five pieces from the year.

Dying for Love

By: Dr. Suchitra Dalvie

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On the occasion of Valentine’s Day, Dr. Dalvie reflects on the extreme violence that is inflicted on women in the name of love and affection, and the many ways in which it neither recognised nor acted on.

ASAP Changemakers

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In commemoration of International Women’s Day 2017, ASAP celebrated the work of our young women champions in promoting women’s access to safe abortion in their region. Meet our changemakers here, here, here, and here.

Don’t Safe Abortions contribute to World Health?

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This piece examines the correlation between mental health and unwanted pregnancies, calling attention to the impact that the right to choose can have on women’s health. On World Health Day 2017 it urges governments and policymakers and healthcare providers to recognize unwanted pregnancy as a risk factor for depression and work to safeguard women’s mental health, by ensuring that they always have a choice for a safe abortion when faced with such an unwanted pregnancy.

Male inclusion in sexual and reproductive health initiatives: A training approach to involve more men from conservative Asian societies

By: Sarmad Muhammad Soomar

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Guest blogger Sarmad reflects on the lack of men working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights and asks if ‘Are men less comfortable in this field or they are not much competent to deal the situations related to these sensitive themes. Is sexual health only related to women?’ He ends by urging men to step up and be a part of community mobilisation.

Heal Your Hymen

By: Shristi Mainali

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Shristi, in her piece for the ASAP blog, takes a thought provoking look at the South Asian fascination for the hymen, and the corresponding value of female virginity.

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What to Expect when you’re not Expecting!

Srushti Mahamuni


5 key questions to ask yourself before having an abortion or taking an unplanned pregnancy to term.

Discovering you are pregnant when you were not planning to get pregnant can be extremely stressful. Carrying the pregnancy to term or considering an abortion can be a highly emotional decision.  The internet is not always super helpful, given the highly politicised nature of this intimate dilemma!

Of course, a woman has a total and complete right to her body, and while this decision should involve or at least take into account the partner’s opinion and feelings with regards to the pregnancy, at the end of the day, it is completely the woman’s choice.

So, allow yourself the space and time to make the best decision for yourself.

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Here are 5 objective questions to ask yourself before you make a decision

Is your body prepared for a pregnancy?

Carrying a pregnancy to term can have a lot of health repercussions on your body. Those 9 months takes a lot physical, emotional and mental strength. Is your body in a healthy enough state for it? Are there any health issues that you are suffering from that could get aggravated and even endanger your life?  Depending on your age, reproductive history, sexual health history, prior history of abortions or pregnancies, having another abortion or carrying a pregnancy to term can have health consequences on your body.  It is important to ask your doctor all the health risks involved.

Do you see a future for your relationship with your partner?

Is your relationship with your partner stable enough to move forward to this next step? Is your relationship healthy? Are you feeling pressurized by or pressuring your partner to sway the decision in either direction? Do you see yourself having children in the future? With this person? What kind of family structure do you want to raise a child in? While a child can be raised in a variety of family structures and households with love and care, these questions are a guiding light for you to figure out if the family structure you want to raise a child in would be possible for you with or without your partner. Open and frank communication is key to teasing out the answers that will help you make your decision.

How would this decision affect your career goals/ financial situation?

Having a child can seriously delay if not modify completely, your education options, career goals and financial situation, especially when the pregnancy is unplanned. What are your career goals? How do you see a baby fitting into the picture? How will this change modify your goals? How do you feel about that? Furthermore, a child costs money. Are you and your partner currently in a position to afford a child? If not, are there support systems you can rely on while you become monetarily stable? Financial stability is something that can always be achieved at a later stage in life; however, being able to fulfil basic needs of your new family is something to consider before making the decision to have one. Also, having an abortion in a private facility can sometimes be expensive. This also needs to be taken into account and both partners need to discuss their contribution to the financial expenditure of the procedure.

 Can you rely on support systems for help?

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Who is your ‘village’, your support system? Are you in a position to rely on the different people in your life, to support you in the different ways you may need – emotionally, financially, mentally and physically? Are you and your partner willing to take responsibility and this decision together? How will your family react to this news? Who do you need to support you in making a decision, no matter what it is? Do you/your partner or your family share any religious/ moral values that would affect your decision and their support for your decision? Even in cases where you decide to have an abortion, a support system is helpful to deal with the physical and emotional repercussions. Who will accompany you to the clinic? Will you have someone to talk to after? An unplanned pregnancy, especially in certain cultures can take a toll not only on the couple but also on their family ties. In some cases revealing to your family that you are pregnant can even be life-threatening. In this case, look for the women’s support groups in your area and trust in them to help you deal with your situation.

 Are you ready to be a parent? 

Most importantly, realize that parenting is a serious, lifelong commitment. It is hard work. But it can also be exciting, fun and rewarding. It helps to have a partner or a support system you can rely on to the make the journey smoother. If you are not ready to be a parent at the moment, (or ever), that is okay as well. Take time to think and feel for yourself where you stand. Discuss openly with your partner and talk through all the possibilities with an open heart. Allow yourself to feel without judgment because, at the end of the end of the day, you are the best person to make this decision for you.

Every situation is different and every decision is personal, allow yourself the possibility to imagine either reality and trust that the decision you make will be an informed one, that is best for you at this point in your life.


About the author: Srushti Mahamuni is an anti-capitalist, free-spirited sorceress who strives to practice an intersectional- feminist, queer, anti-white-supremacist, decolonial politics. She was born and raised in Pune, India and grew up in France, the Netherlands and Congo and continues to grow evermore. Academically trained in gender studies she works to create an equal world for all. She blogs about an array of topics, ranging from sexuality, body politics to navigating complex identities in a changing world. Get in touch at srushtimahamuni@gmail.com 

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