Keep Calm and Take the Medical Abortion Pill.

In much the same way as the Oral Birth Control Pill was either vilified or seen as the magic bullet, depending on which side of the uterus you stood, the Oral Medical Abortion Pills are receiving similar, almost predictable reactions.

Women’s rights groups and women themselves are hailing it, quite rightly, as the next best thing since the Oral Birth Control Pill, while almost everyone else in power, (united as always when faced with anything to do with women’s rights), have denigrated it, created moral panic over it and tried to prevent physical access by banning it and policing it.

At a meeting, I had the privilege of participating in last month, a group of truly badass and amazing women’s rights activists and their supporters engaged in some incredible politically sharp and subversive dialogues and discussions around the latest villain of the drama around women’s sexual lives—the Self- Managed Abortions.

wow pills

This group defined ‘self –managed’ as running the whole gamut from self- procured (online, from a chemist, through a hotline), to self- administered (taken it on their own in absence of formal system supervision), to self- conducting the actual abortion process (managing the bleeding, the products and their disposal).

One of the groups said that they hoped a day would come when every home would have a bottle of Misoprostol pills in the medicine cabinet, right next to the paracetamol or the antacids or the Bandaids, because that is truly the reality of a woman’s life.

Sex happens and pregnancy isn’t always a wanted outcome.

We tried to unpack the various reasons that the ‘system’ feels so threatened by women seeking to manage their own fertility and reproductive autonomy.

The answer, not surprisingly, always comes down to the patriarchy and its need to control women. Women’s mobility, education opportunities, employment and earning capacity, safety concerns, barriers to financial security have all been constructed carefully and elaborately over the centuries to control the most fragile and yet the most powerful notion of them all—the woman should have sex only with whom ‘they’ allow her to and only when ‘they’ allow her to.

That is why marriage as an institution is construed as such a water-shed evet in a woman’s life. The best day of her life.Apparently. To be eclipsed only by the day she becomes a mother. Apparently.

There is no genuine fulfillment a woman can feel through any other achievement which may require intellectual or other skills besides fertility. Such a completing her thesis, or flying a plane or becoming Prime Minister or writing the code for NASA’s rockets.

The laws that are created are also geared towards this aim. Thus having sex before marriage has such a heavy social price on it that virginity testing is done, unwed mothers are shamed, their children are considered illegitimate and ‘honor killings’ are justified.

So what it comes down to is this: A woman cannot say ‘yes’ before marriage, even if she is above 18 and can vote or stand for elections, or drink, or drive or donate organs.

But once a woman is married in fact she cannot say ‘no’ to her husband and must always be available for sex. At least if you live in one of the countries which do not criminalize marital rape. (Such as Afghanistan, Congo, India, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia). Many of these countries also top the list for these where girls are being married off as children and there is no sex education in school. And after all that compulsory/ forced sex if there are no children, or no sons, that woman is again at risk of being abandoned, beaten up or subjected to social stigma.

Marital Rape is still perfectly legal in these 38 countires

If for some reason the woman is no longer married, because she is divorced, the husband left her, she left him, she is widowed etc then once again society will shame her and blame her for the relationship breakdown, bringing bad luck to the man and causing his death, and then will go further and shame her and/or punish her for still wanting to have a sexual life.

I was at a workshop recently where I was moderating a panel which had a representative of an NGO that works with single and abandoned women. The participants at this workshop were around 80 women and some men from rural and grassroots NGOs across the state. As the panel moderator I asked the audience casually why we didn’t have anyone from the NGO that works with single and abandoned men. They all erupted with laughter. Another panellist worked with a sex workers’ self- help group. Again I asked them what about sex worker clients’ self-help group. And the last panellist was from an NGO working for widows and this time when I asked the question about NGOs working with widowers, there was silence.

They understood the point that was being made and the realization that all these groups needed to be set up mainly to support women who were for any reason outside of the accepted sexual relationships that a woman can or is allowed to have in a patriarchal society.

We heard from our panellists the stories of a widow needing an abortion and being raped by the moneylender before he gave her the loan to pay for the service in the private sector. We heard of women who go to work as farm labour being encouraged to have a hysterectomy so that they won’t get pregnant when the contractor rapes them. As he was bound to.

We heard stories of sex workers being kicked by the police, on their stomach, when pregnant, because why the &%*# would a sex worker want to be a mother?

It is such chilling and infuriating stories that remind me every single day just how vital and absolutely critical our work is in advocating for safe abortion as a woman’s right.

Just like the oral pill one generation ago, this pill also has the power to disrupt the narrative and subvert the hegemonic control of the patriarchy on women’s sexual and reproductive lives.

Abortion Pills

So here is our mantra for the new age: Keep Calm and Take the Medical Abortion Pill !



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SEX—danger or pleasure?

When healthcare providers speak of sex, it is usually in the context of danger, pathology, disease, unwanted pregnancies and such very clinical concerns.

While that is undoubtedly very important, they also need to learn how to speak to their patients and others about sexual pleasure and everything it entails.

Love Matters India, in collaboration with ASAP, recently organized a workshop in Mumbai which covered topics ranging from the politics of sexual pleasure and other constructs of sex to how contraceptives can easily be a turn on too!

birds and bees

As soon as we got into the deeper discussions it was obvious that 2 days was too less to cover all the topics on fun and pleasure as well as learning about facts and science!

We did try to keep the sessions as interactive as possible

and everybody had some very interesting and valuable points to bring to the table.

On the first day we discussed all about sexuality, sexual health and sexual rights, de- linking them as well as understanding their importance individually. We recognized that sexual pleasure may mean different things to different people but there are certain acceptable and unacceptable things that everybody needs to agree on and for instance at the workshop mutual consent was the winner.

If it's not consensual...

Obviously sexual pleasure does not necessarily need 2 people and while the act of pleasuring self seems to be popular among some, it is still undiscovered by many, owing to the shame attached by society. This is especially true for women who (heaven help us!) want to ‘help themselves’ and might not ‘need a man’ (let’s assume another woman is not even an option for this society).

Interesting myths were busted such as –size definitely doesn’t matter and sex is not more pleasurable for men than women.

However the most interesting part for me was the risk based and the pleasure based approach, specifically in context with contraception.

Arushi from the Pleasure Project, who facilitated the day explained how a balance is required but rarely achieved, with the conservatives only talking about risk (taking the fun out of it) and the other extreme which only talks about pleasure (taking the risk out of it) and often ends up losing the whole point.

The Pleasure Project has been doing some amazing work on making contraceptives sexy instead of a turn off (as is portrayed to us and believed by most men), especially in the porn industry by working on ethical porn for women and encouraging the use of contraception.

On the second day the participants learned about this interesting tool developed by Love Matters, which can be a great support for those in training and education of SRHR or even a couple’s counsellor. The Pleasure Meter asked the person to rate their experiences from 1-10 with 10 marking maximum satisfaction, for a list of questions ranging from ‘The last time you had sex was it pleasurable for you’ to ‘Your consent was taken into account for all your sexual endeavours’.

safe sex

You might think you know the in and out of all your sexual needs, but this meter will give you a reality check for sure!

Dr Suchitra Dalvie, Coordinator Asia Safe Abortion Partnership took some session on the last day starting with case studies that helped to clear a lot of doubts on how you can practice a more sexual pleasure approach while talking to people by deep diving, through an activity demonstrating conversations between the gynaecologist and a client under given circumstances.

It’s not until you are in the shoes of a provider that you know how open minded (or not!) you are!

Well, the workshop was definitely a success for many present there, but like I mentioned above, just 2 days are never enough to talk all pleasure now right?

This is an amazing initiative by Love Matters to normalize sexual pleasure and encourage more people to talk openly about what they like, how they like it and what their turn off is!

on top


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You Too


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.


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.


BBC News (2017) ‘Indian court rejects abortion for 10-year-old rape victim’ 28 Jul 2017 (Accessed on 30 June 2018)

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)


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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:”, “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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