Does your health insurance cover sexual health?

SEXUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: ARE WE COVERED??

As I sit on my patio, reading article after article on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) on Hidden Pockets, I wonder if we are financially sound to improve this aspect of our healthcare system. Having worked in the field of Healthcare financing for the past couple of years, I understand the importance of Health insurance in making Healthcare affordable and accessible to the common man, and when I say common man, I mean the population in the Lower- and Middle-income groups in our Country. So, I decided that maybe it was time to take a look at how affordable, Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare is in India.

What is Sexual and Reproductive Health?

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. This definition is similar to the definition of Health as defined by the WHO and implies that SRH is a vital part of overall Health of an individual. Simply put, it means that, people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so.

To have optimum SRH, what is needed is Access to:

  1. Appropriate and Accurate Information: Information to Empower and protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and unhealthy and severe repercussions of unplanned pregnancies and improper abortions.
  2. Safe, Effective, Affordable and Acceptable methods of contraception
  3. Services: If and When a woman decides to have a baby, she must have the necessary services available to her, to help have a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery and healthy baby (Antenatal, Natal and Post-Natal care)

All this said, is Sexual and Reproductive Health given the importance it deserves in India? Yes, the Government of India does recognize the importance of Sexual and Reproductive health to have included it as a component in the National Health Policy, 2017. However, is financial aid available for Access to the necessary Sexual and reproductive healthcare?

Role of the Government

The National Health Policy in 2017 noted that “There will be enhanced provisions for reproductive morbidities and health needs of women beyond the reproductive age group (40+)” yet focus on public health standards such as sanitation, water, food safety etc., alone may not suffice in terms of ensuring sexual and reproductive health standards in the country.

In terms of National Health Programmes in reference to sexual and reproductive health, the National Health Policy,2017 includes:

RMNCH+A services (Reproductive, Maternal, New born, Child, and Adolescent Health) which would address the social determinants affecting Maternal health and child survival through developmental action in all sectors. There is however no mention of how these services would be made affordable or if there might be any financial aid available to the population in need. Also, with reference to child and adolescent health, the Policy recognizes the need to expand the scope of reproductive and sexual health in order to address other issues as well, like, inadequate calorie intake, nutrition status and psychological problems etc.,

Health Insurance, Public and Private: What is Available Out There?

After a detailed study of the various policies provided by Health Insurance companies in India, both Public and Private, it is apparent that Sexual and Reproductive health is not sufficiently covered by health insurance. The only aspect of SRH that is covered is Maternity, especially delivery and is called Maternity Insurance.

Maternity Insurance is typically provided as an add-on or as an additional rider with a fundamental health insurance policy. This insurance covers costs for both delivery options namely- caesarean and normal delivery. This however is only provided by some Insurance Service Providers to prevent you from burning a hole in your pockets. Some corporates offer their women employees the advantage of maternity protection along with the routine health insurance coverage.

Health Insurance companies provide this benefit with stringent underwriting of the policy as well as set sub-limits. Some benefits they provide include pre-hospitalization and post-hospitalization costs. Some policies cover pre-hospitalization of up to 30 days prior to date of admission. Expenses such as nursing and room charges, surgeon fee, doctor consultation and anaesthetist consultation may be covered as well.

In general, maternity insurance by and large has a 3 to 4 year waiting period before the benefits can come into play.

Apart from the Maternity cover, till date, there seems to be a lack of financial aid available to make Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare affordable to all. To my understanding, while the Government understands the need for improved Sexual and Reproductive health, there is a long way to go in achieving this.

Babe.. I missed my period!

What does it mean when you skip a period?

Babe.. I missed my period!

My panicked voice ran shivers to his spine but being a sensible partner he calmly said: Let’s figure out what it is. First of all, don’t freak out– Breath.

Being anemic and super skinny, I was doing excessive exercise for weight gain and later we found that my excessive exercise and anxiety disorder caused delay in periods.

Coming to the point, Most of us gone through this near to hell experience at least once in life and the first thing comes to our mind is “Pregnancy”

But NO! If you want to ensure that you are not pregnant then do use the pregnancy calculator to check when to use the pregnancy test kit.

There are many other reasons for delayed periods or sometimes we skip a month and they come back with more power the next month.

Like my partner said “Don’t freak out- take a deep breath.

Irregularities in menstrual cycles aren’t all that rare.

A number of lifestyle and health factors can prompt our periods to take a mini- vacation. Still, never wait to take a pregnancy test to rule out a potential pregnancy.

When we point out the reasons of missed periods- the list is too big:

* Stress : Stress takes a serious bite out of our bodies

* Diet : Women, Never skip your breakfast.

* Excessive Exercise: Do you know that excessive exercise lowers the amount of female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone).

* Underweight/ Overweight: There’s no specific weight above or below which you’re guaranteed to stop ovulating or menstruating but, less fat means lower Leptin and more fat disrupt coordination between brain and ovaries.

* Hormonal Issues : Got Thyroid? PCOS? POF(Premature Ovarian Failure AKA Early Menopause)?

* Under medication: Some painkillers (Including the very common aspirin) can mess up our cycle. And say NO to antidepressants if you regularly facing issues with delayed or missed periods.

* Birth Control : Most birth control pills and patches prevent pregnancy by halting ovulation but if you stop pills and do not resume your menstruation within 3 months, Something else is going on in your body.

And here come the time for action– Most of the conditions can be tested yet some can not be completely resolved, a test can help you to understand the problem andre-regulate our cycle.

The bottom line?

If you miss more than one period, you’re sure you’re not pregnant, and you’ve exhausted all possibilities, it may be time to make some lifestyle changes.

If you have any issues on sexual and reproductive health, WhatsApp us 8861713567 and we will ensure that you get a good counselling and meet the right service provider!

Is India ready for law on periods?


Mr. Shashi Tharoor recently introduced a private members bill and asked for amendments in some of the existing legislations on women’s health. The Bill ( Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Health Bill 2018) looked at some of the aspects of the women’s health and was ambitious enough to name the bill as Menstrual, Reproductive and Sexual Health. 

In general lives of women, there is often a tendency to neglect one’s own sexual and reproductive health. We rarely expect or even complain regarding it. In such a scenario, this demand might be applauded.

The naming of the Bill itself is very interesting. For the first time a name of the law itself covers menstrual, reproductive and sexual health. In a country like India, where these issues still are seen taboo, this name is a huge step forward.

If we really want to get our government involved in our daily lives, we need to have specific demands from the government, and this is where Shashi Tharoor for a change decides to use the simple vocabulary of demands. 

This Bill has a lot for everyone! 

Girls 

This Bill starts by asking for sanitary pads in government schools. Now, if we look at this proposal, this is an ambitious pitch itself. The cost of this demand, the social stigma around this demand and more than anything the sustainability of this demand. The whole world is trying to convince each other to move towards cloth pads and India is legalising the right to sanitary pads. Maybe for a first time, it is still a good move to discuss menstruation in the parliament and put some onus on our governments to provide for these facilities. 

But then, we should be completely aware of what is that we do indeed need for the future. In our demands what are we asking for? and for whom? Is there another way out where we can pitch for sustainable products or should we just start at the basic level and help the girls as the first step. 

Is it time government takes up the responsibility of ensuring good health for its girls and women? and if we have already reached this stage of asking for free pads, why not even ask for tax exemption and reduction of costs for pads, and treat it as essential goods? 

Single Women: 

From girls, to young women who bear the cost of being women in this country, acknowledging abortion as a care for all women, not just married is a huge step. This new Bill is  a refreshing change from the existing legislation which uses the word married and limits the service of medical termination of pregnancy to the mercy of doctors.

In our work we see the number of young single women who struggle to approach a doctor due to fear of not being married is a huge barrier. Young single women often get blackmailed and are willing to spend any amount of money just to get an abortion. There is a lot of report around unsafe abortions in the India. This is a great step just to ensure that women do not end up with quacks. 

It is also interesting to realise that there is an attempt to push abortion conversation away from medical field and take it to legal field. At present, it is called Medical Termination of Pregnancy and most of the conversation around still revolves around medical facts. In our work at Hidden Pockets we have seen so many people struggling with this question whether abortion is legal or not. By shifting the name to Legal Termination of Pregnancy it suddenly acknowledges the fact and makes it very clear for any normal person that abortion is legal

Married Women :

The Bill seeks for challenging the idea of “marital rape” and brings back the conversation of consent even within marital spaces. It demands for acknowledgement of the fact that marriage itself is not a signifier for consent. There are moments of discomfort or moments within marriage also where people do not consent to any physical contact. This is indeed a huge demand and ability to acknowledge violence even in these spaces. 

This Bill helps us remind that as young girls and women in India, it is time we ask for some of these basic rights and expect our governments to ensure that we do have healthy lives. 

I got my periods at 15! When did you get yours?


I have always had a complicated relationship with my periods.

Among my friends, I was the last one to have mine. And  it did make me feel a bit isolated.

I couldn’t really talk to my classmates about the very thing they whispered and giggled about, after learning about it in school, I was worried why am I the only one who is different from other girls. And then when I was 15, that happened to me, and it didn’t seem so funny.

My periods was way worse than most of my friends, I bled more; it lasted for eight to ten days instead of the typical five to seven, and the hurt!

Wearing super absorbent pads (Pad was a luxury and I was allowed to use it only when I go to school. Other times when I was at home, Mom used to give a clean cotton cloth which I wash after every use and keep safe for the next period), my heavy bleeding made me feel like I didn’t have control over this particular bodily function. But the only relief was my period was extremely punctual, I knew when its gonna come.

Tampons and menstrual cups were not popular those time so the only known option was pads. And I used to get rashes due to keeping two pads at a time and it feels extremely uncomfortable, like my little lady is in an oven.

The change in menstrual lifestyle

Fast forward, social media introduced tampons to me. I wanted to try them but was terrified to know that I have to put them inside. And no one ever told me how to use one.

But I took the help of youtube videos , andddd…. when I used one for the first time, I left the cardboard applicator in. And the other time the thread came off and I had to fish for the tampon inside. Thats horrible. And slowly I got used to it, become an expert in putting my tampons in.

The uncomfortable feeling when I felt during the initial days fade away and sometimes even I forget that I am on my periods. Yes, the cramps will remind me that I am bleeding, but the tampons never made me feel anything abnormal.

And during my periods I am overly conscious about the odour, what if my colleagues get the foul smell? and checking my back every time after getting up from my chair.?

Ohh gosh, I am wearing two pads and what if those lines are visible from my back because put on a tight jeans.? what if my favourite panties get stained?

No more worries about all this when I use a tampon.

But if you ask me tampons are better than pads? everything comes with its own pros and cons and should be very very careful while inserting and removing,

also we can not see how stained our tampon is, so it’s better to keep a timing to change it according to the flow. Last but not least, ALWAYS..ALWAYS keep an extra pad,

because it’s gonna be really hard changing a tampon in public toilet.

Happy Periods!

Aadhira : Just a small town girl trapped in a big town. Amature at everything. I live for the moments you can’t put into words, and few things transcend a cup of coffee and someone to share it with.
Hotelier by profession. Still living the quarter life crisis.

Skinny is not sick!

Skinny  isn’t sick!

Skinny girl…?

I am more than my body… I am more than my hair…

I am not just my skin!

I am the confidence radiating through my smile.

If you ever wondered why young people grow up hating their image, I for one, blame society.

Growing up, and even now, I have always hated my image. Disgusted by my slender physique and narrow bottom, I always strived to be a ‘Thick’ or ‘Curvy’ women.

Why?

Because society says that skinny girls are sick, or on drugs.

Because I am constantly criticized.

In other words, Skinny shaming is as bad as fat shaming, and IT NEEDS TO STOP.

There is no particular body type for REAL WOMEN.

Real women exist all over the world and they can be any size. My physical appearance has zero to do with how REAL WOMEN I am.

The other day I went for a full body massage and as soon as I undress, the therapist looked at me like I am an Alien. And she presented her hate by asking ‘Where should I massage Ma’am? On your bones? thinking that her insult is somehow flattering to me.

Whenever I am in for a full leg waxing- they comment about my long legs (Yes, I am tall and obviously my legs will be long) and thigh gap.

–          You will look much better with some meat on your body.

–          When did you last eat a decent meal?

–          You work in a restaurant and skill skinny?

Listen, I can’t help the shape of my body. Nor I want to feel ashamed of it. There is no part of it I would change and now I don’t feel any anxiety when I look in the mirror due to what is reflecting back to me.

And yes, I am not effortlessly slim. I have to work really hard at staying the size I am (rather than unhealthily underweight) by getting plenty of calories down, all day every day, force down calorie laden smoothies and cook everything I possibly can in butter.

The genes inherited from my Mother’s side of family means that I have incredibly fast metabolism.

Isn’t it sad that I have to explain myself like this?

I can’t help but feel that the society doesn’t want skinny girls to have positive view of themselves.

I am lucky that I developed a don’t care attitude lately but I often wonder how a younger, more vulnerable girl would cope with these kind of comments.

People think they are paying me some kind of inverse compliment by telling me that they hate me because how I look.

Well I am fed up with it.

I just wish that the next time someone takes it upon themselves to thin shame me-or anyone else- they would think about what they are about to say and then turn it on their head and imagine coming with something similar to a women who is overweight.

Would they tell a fat girl that they hate her because how her body is?

No.. I don’t think so. So why can it be considered OKAY to say that to me?

There is enough room for everyone to be beautiful. All women are beautiful, big or small, and there is enough room for all of us to shine. The traits and values that truly matter in the end are your kindness, generosity, openness, loyalty etc. Your body should be taken care because it houses all of those traits. But that SHELL does not define you.

I am beautiful.

You are beautiful.

Every woman is beautiful regardless of her size.

Writer :

Aadhira : Just a small town girl trapped in a big town. Amature at everything. I live for the moments you can’t put into words, and few things transcend a cup of coffee and someone to share it with.
Hotelier by profession. Still living the quarter life crisis.

How to prevent pregnancy after sex?

How are you preventing pregnancy?

If your answer is “By not having sex,” hats off to your wit. The rest of the write-up is not for you though.

For those of us having sex, I want to confess something. I am 38 years old, and I have been under the impression that most people use condoms or oral pills for contraception. Up until writing this piece, I have been quite ignorant about contraception in India. So, here’s sharing what I have learned.

The Great Indian Contraception Journey

Ours is a country where childbearing is actively encouraged. Sex, without procreation as the outcome is considered pointless. This sex, too, must happen in the approved enclosure of marriage. As a society, we also have this incredibly magical power of engaging in the activity but denying its existence. “How are babies born?” “Oh, they are dropped in the hush-hush hammocks by the side of the supremely sanskari trees in the middle of the platonic nights.” Talking contraception in an environment when the sexual act itself is not recognized publicly is not easy. However, aided by government loudspeakers, we have been talking about it.

In 1960s, the total fertility rate (TFR) was just a little less than 6. That is, on an average, a woman in India was giving births more than five times in her lifetime. Forty-eight years later though, in 2014, the TFR was 2.3.

The Contraception Scene in India

With sex being taboo, contraception becomes an uncomfortable subject to discuss. Seeking modern methods of contraception, including the innocuous condom, is not common, I learnt. Going through the National Family Health Survey 2015-2016 (NFHS-4), I learnt that only 53.5% of women (married, aged 15-49 years) deploy any method of contraception. 47.8% use a modern method while the rest rely on methods such as avoiding the ovulation period or pulling out before ejaculation.

While 36% of the surveyed women have opted for sterilization (tubectomy), only 0.3% among these have partners who have opted for male sterilization (vasectomy). Only 5.6% use condoms and 4.1% use oral pills. The NFHS-4 woke me up to the realities of contraception in the country. Over 6 lakh households were surveyed for this; almost 7 lakh women and over a lakh men were interviewed.

Types of Contraception  

Pregnancy involves three steps: the first is the ovary releasing an egg (the ovulation), the second is the sperm travelling to the ova (egg) and fertilizing it (fertilization) and the third is the fertilized egg travelling to the uterus and attaching itself there (implantation). Any means of contraception is about interfering with these three steps.

Contraception methods are of three kinds when it comes to how long-lasting those are. The short-term methods like the condom or the oral contraceptive pills are to be used with regular frequency to prevent pregnancy; the long-term methods like the intra-uterine device (IUD) can prevent pregnancy up to ten years; the permanent methods involve sterilization, usually opted by those who no longer want children.

Male methods of contraception

Condom: The condom is a barrier method of contraception where the sperm is stopped from reaching the ova. While essentially a means of birth control, the condom protects one from sexually transmitted diseases.

Vasectomy: Considered a permanent method of contraception, vasectomy involves cutting and tying off tubes that carry sperm into the semen. Thus, essentially, the semen that is ejaculated in sex no longer carries sperm.

Female methods of contraception

Condoms: The female condom is like a pouch, which when inserted into the vagina, barricades the semen, and thus the sperm, from reaching the ova. Given this too blocks entry of the semen, it prevents diseases that are transmitted sexually.

Oral Pills: The oral contraceptives are hormonal means of preventing pregnancy. The pill is a combination of estrogen and progesterone that interferes with ovulation or fertilization. The pill is often prescribed to regulate the menstrual cycle. This method is also known for its side effects that may include mood changes, nausea, weight challenges.

Spermicide: This method kills the sperm in the semen. Typically available in the form of tablet or jelly, this needs to be inserted inside the vagina a few minutes before sex.

IUD: The intra-uterine device (IUD) prevents the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus. This is a long-term method of contraception where the device is inserted inside the uterus for a duration of a year to ten years.

Tubectomy: This method prevents fertilization. Considered a permanent method of contraception, tubectomy involves closing or tying the fallopian tubes so that the egg does not meet the sperm.

Emergency pills: This oral contraception is a reactionary method of preventing pregnancy. This tablet is taken after unprotected sex; it delays ovulation so that the sperm does not attach itself to the egg.

Natural or non-modern methods

Those who do not use a modern method of contraception and even those who may do may sometimes use what are called natural methods of contraception, methods that do not involve cost or bodily interference or intrusion. Avoiding sex during ovulation is one such method. Watching the cycle and recognizing the time of ovulation, however, is not an easy task. The other natural method used is withdrawal where the man pulls out of the vagina before ejaculation. These methods, though seemingly in control, pose a high risk of pregnancy.

One could argue that condoms are a safe, non-intrusive method that also prevents STDs when one is with multiple partners. That is just a view though. How are you preventing pregnancy?

Writer : Anuradha calls herself an overthinker. Besides being a closet poet, she writes on matters that intrigue or move her. She is the co-founder of Dehaat, a niche art brand that brings forth the work of artists from India’s rustic belts of culture. She is also closely associated with the discussion platform LoudST and moderates its panel discussions.

What is the procedure for Abortion?

In Indian Medical Termination of Pregnancy is legal under certain conditions. It is important for us understand the procedure for abortion.

 

For abortion or also known as Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP), the woman needs to fill a consent form called ‘Form C’.  Only the consent of the women is required for performing the medical termination.

The woman is provided with a medicine kit containing mifepristone and misoprostol.  These medicines are best helpful in first 12 weeks (1st Trimester of abortion).

The doctor properly explains how to utilise these medicines as it is important to take these medicines in a proper way and under the doctor’s guidance

miso-and-mife

Procedure:

  • Day 1:One 200 mg tablet of Mifepristone is taken
  • Day 3 (between 24 to 48 hours):Misoprostol pills of 200 mcg each (total of 800 mcg) are given orally or vaginally.
  • Day 14 – 15:Person returns for a post-treatment examination to affirm that a complete end of pregnancy has happened.

The doctor would recommend to come back for an ultrasound check up after 15 days. Then get an ultrasound (abdomen) done because it is important to find out if the abortion is completed and women is safe.

These medicines don’t have any side effects but should be always taken under the doctor’s guidance.  It is always better to see if the clinic has displayed the certificate for medical termination practice. One needs to be careful from quacks or unregistered doctors.

BDA 2031 Master Plan Consultation

BDA 2031 Master Plan Consultation

                                                                                                  By The Bachchao Project and Hidden Pockets Collective

Our Intention behind this

The way to build an inclusive city is to understand the diverse needs of the people interacting with the city. Every city has an governing body to draft plans, these plans essentially used to shape the work and infrastructure in the city over a period of time. Every few years when new plans are formulated, these plans are released for consultation to the citizens of the city.  These are opportunities for citizens to engage and shape their city to their needs.

When BDA released the master plan for 2031 we saw this as an opportunity to look at the gendered needs in the city and highlight the same. This is the first of our efforts to be more involved in the City Plans.

Our observations :

In our analysis of the BDA Master Plan, we realized that most of the draft of the planning is based on a concrete understanding of a city, which is focussed more on developing spaces for industrial purposes without reflecting the lived experiences of people living in these spaces.  The plan is more focussed more making the cities more functional without looking at some of the problems presently being faced by the people living in these spaces.

We have based our observations on the maps provided in the BDA 2031.  With regard to land use, there is a need for more public audits and data collection. Data is insufficient and does not accurately locate some of the spaces.

The proposed city planning does not attend to needs of all persons living in these spaces. While the BDA has considered traffic, emergencies and disasters; safety as a parameter has not received any mention in the document. Based on experience, we can identify some of the spaces in the city, which are densely populated and some of these spaces have reported several harassment incidents and are considered unsafe for eg: the petta area right in the center of the city and the city bus stand. However safety has not been considered and this has not reflected in the urban planning of some of the spaces. These are just few spaces we could easily point out but there are several such pockets in the city. While the master plan has looked at all the available data sources when it comes to emergencies, disasters and even of archaeological importance. They have failed to look at any available safety indexes and nor have initiated conversations in that direction

Similarly while considering the infrastructure of the city. In area zoning regulation there is mention of width of the road, but indicators like street lighting and footpaths for pedestrians which can be some of the markers for safety concerns in an area is missed out.

In a city like Bangalore, which has a growing concerns around migration, there is no mention of shelter homes for different communities. They have not received any place in area zoning regulation. Not just shelter homes for different communities, shelter homes for women and children were also not considered under public spaces. These spaces are important is supporting a healthy community. A city as large as bangalore should have safe spaces for survivors of abuse and people with no support systems. We thought it was odd that the plans did not consider this as a need of the city.

Bangalore is a melting point of people coming from different parts of India, who are adding to the booming economy of the city. Migration of human resources also puts onus on the city to make the city more accomodating for people who are migrating. This is often done by encroaching spaces which are allocated as public spaces.

The rising population also leads to the question of utilization of empty and open spaces to accommodate the in flow of people. We strongly suggest that the language used for interlinking open spaces and eco sensitive spaces defeats the purpose as eco sensitive spaces are not spaces meant for usage by public.

The draft mentions Public sector enterprises as lung spaces of a city, indicating that these spaces can be used by general public for purpose other than functions of public sector. This is a very limited understanding of a public space and also reduces the space which could have been accessible to general public.

There is a potential of public spaces to be point of interaction where people from different communities can interact, it can be a great space for flourishing informal sectors. There is a need to define public space with usage perspective and not just see it as empty spaces.

UNESCO defines a public space as an area or place that is open and accessible to all persons, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. Some of the structures can be  plazas, squares and parks.

More SDZs seemed to have been proposed which are not connected within the existing layout of the city.

The industrial and residential areas do not have a clear path of connection between the two sections. These spaces can become inaccessible and unsafe for people from different communities.

Public spaces also provide an opportunity to design sanitation as part of the urban planning and introduce several public toilets especially for women working in the informal sector who might not have access to close toilets in their work spaces.  Public toilet is another aspect, which failed to get notice of the planning process. This also gets linked to safety aspects in these public spaces. If public spaces are designed keeping in mind the needs of people from different communities, it becomes more diverse, attracts more people and provides the space with a community feeling, which also makes safety then as a community issue instead of an individual issue.

Need for additional Data

Through our work we also realised the need of city specific gender data. We released there were no public records of safety audits, nor there were enough material talking about experiences. The mapping of what makes women’s lives in the Bangalore meaningful was also missing.

Future Work

Through our work we recognised that the need for more rigorous and in detailed submission. Our comments were unfortunately limited by lack of time and readily available information to make it possible.

  • We plan to build a joint process for reviewing such plans in the future.
  • We also understand the need for establishing better communication with the city planning committees and to review the existing regulations and push for a more inclusive approach in them.
  • We understand the need of safety audits and the dearth of informations due to lack of it and we hope to support more community audits.
  • We also would like to build a larger community which can work and think of these issues in the gendered lines and we welcome any partnerships in this direction.  

References  

Our submission to the consultation are based on our broad learnings from :

  1. Phadke .S, Khan. S, Ranade .S‎ ,2011 Why Loiter?: Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets
  2. Citizen Labs Articles on Inclusive Cities :

https://www.citylab.com/amp/article/365541/

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/09/the-how-and-why-of-inclusive-growth/541422/

https://www.citylab.com/equity/2016/06/how-to-build-inclusive-cities/487322/

The Bachchao Project is a community effort to develop / support Open Source Technologies and technical frameworks with the following goals :

1. Prevention of Gender Based Violence.
2. Equal Rights for Women and LGBTQIA communities

Can Indian courts handle sexual pleasure?

The word ‘sex’ has been tainted, maligned and mostly misused within the legal institutions. ‘Sexual pleasure’ as a theme is yet to be explored within the legal jurisprudence. In Kamlesh Vashwani Supreme Court order (2014), the judge while delivering the order stated that “things like (porn) lead to prurient interests in the younger generation and are responsible for rising instances of sexual exploitation.” He was not referring to any established study co-relating violence and sexual pleasure. He was simply exhibiting sex negativity prevalent in the court rooms.

Sex negativity remains unquestioned by courts, legislature and legal scholarship. Even activist spaces have focused more on issue of sexual violence against women and have not paid enough attention to promotion of women’s sexual rights, except in the area of reproductive rights. Indian Feminism’s engagement with law has been limited to the violence aspect of sex while losing an opportunity to enter in a dialogue with ‘sexual pleasure’. If law has been used in the past as a reformatory instrument in feminist struggles, it can also be used to redefine and re-analyse feminist relations with sex (the act) and ‘sexual pleasure’

Is there is a negative approach to the term ‘sex’ in our legal system. If there is, can we replace this approach with a sex positive framework and do we tend to benefit from this exercise?

One of the immediate effects of the December 16th incident was the increase in interest taken by the commercial enterprises around safety for women. The state machineries also displayed increased interest in the safety of the woman. Legal mechanisms also took a similar route in the form of a Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 where it resorted to criminal justice system and equated justice with legal enforcement. The new law introduced a lot many categories of crimes and new relations were created between law and sexuality. In a way, Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 created more methods to protect the idea of a woman.
The increased surveillance on the women was justified in the name of safety.

The sex negativity inherent in these different initiatives ended up curtailing women instead of providing spaces for them. The new law retained the sex negative language by evoking the notions of modesty and chastity of a woman and simply expanded the range of activities that threatened or blemished this archaic understanding of female sexuality. This new law could have been the space and time to demand sexual speech, a possibility to have a sexual choice.

Many laws in India rely on the assumption that sexual pleasure merits constraint because it is inherently negative. In Ranjit Udheshi (1968) Supreme Court judgment, it was held that “obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and information of public interest or profit”. The exceptions provided to obscenity law clearly lays down that if the work comes from a scholarly, literary, artistic and political (hereinafter referred as SLAP) values it will provided with constitutional protection. However Sexual pleasure derived is not itself a good enough reason and thus is not worthy of protection.

In recent case, Aveek Sarkar judgment Supreme Court while dealing with an issue of obscenity held that we need to apply the community standards while defining obscenity. The court held that “Only those sex-related materials which have a tendency of “exciting lustful thoughts” can be held to be obscene, but the obscenity has to be judged from the point of view of an average person, by applying contemporary community standards”. This was clearly a shift from Hicklin Rule applied in Ranjit Udeshi (1968) which was more about the effect of the content. Inspite of the expansion of the definition and understanding around obscenity, courts were not willing to engage with the notion of sex in a positive framework.

Sexual pleasure is considered to have poor/negligible value. Sexual speech is not considered as speech and laws curbing sexual speech are justified in name of public order and morality. For purpose of law obscenity is no speech.

If we challenge this assumption, and commence on something like sexual pleasure is valuable, can this benefit laws engaging with sexual activities?

Sexual pleasure is mostly subjective and is achieved by individuals in different ways. Value of sexual pleasure is evident by the ends to which people go and the significant unwanted consequences they endure to achieve it. Sex positive laws are laws that perceive a certain value in sexual activity and allocate some value to sexual pleasure. Sex- positive laws are laws that inherently do not assume that sex is bad thing, and focuses on other aspects in a sexual activity instead of only focusing on the sexual act. It perceives that both men and women can experience sexual pleasure and can provide their consent for the act.
If sexual pleasure is considered to be valuable and is provided equal recognition as sexual speech, it would directly affect a lot of laws which works on the principle of sex negativity. Sex positive frameworks would question the less constitutional protection guaranteed to sexual speech than speech that promotes violence. Using this sex positive framework, the piece tries to discuss effect of it on one specific law: the obscenity laws. This law prohibits sale, circulation and display of any objects that can have a depraving effect on anyone coming in contact with it.

Whenever there is any discussion around sex in legal discourse harm principle is always cited as the main reason, instead of citing sexual pleasure as a reason for the ban. In cases of obscenity, state has to demonstrate that harm is both imminent and likely to occur as a result of that speech. However an offensive material retains constitutional protection if it contains any of the scholarly, literary, artistic and political values. The law seeks to protect not those who can protect themselves but also those whose prurient minds take secret pleasure from erotic writings. Obscenity test is based on the assumption that law needs to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Law prioritizes prevention of unlawful violence over sexual pleasure. Much of the law regulates distribution to willing consumers instead of protecting individuals from exploitation.

Also most of the times, the harm is projected to be on women. There is an unspoken assumption that sexual pleasure can lead to increase in violence against women.

Sex toys are one of these objects that are indirectly affected by these laws. The fact that sex toys/ articles and such related products ‘ carry the impression’ of being ‘obscene’, any commercial dealing in such articles always carries with it a certain element of risk of attracting obscenity laws.

Sex positive framework would help us admit that sex toys can be valuable for some and there is no immediate harm. It opens up discussions around sex toys and institutions flouring around it. This framework removes the dubious distinction between sexual and non-sexual values (scholarly, literary, artistic and political values). In a sex positive framework, one can argue that sexual pleasure is also valuable and hence would require protection. It also negates the assumption that sexual pleasure result in violence against women as woman too are seen as capable of demanding sexual pleasure.
Sex positive frameworks can also help us in dealing with emotions which can be something more than offending moral values in the case of obscenity. For example, Martha Nussbaum in her work Hiding from Humanity (2004) offers an alternative method at looking at obscenity laws. She contends that obscenity laws are catering something more than the moral values. It also deals with spaces which evokes disgust and regulates it. This factor disgust has been expressed in some of our Indian Supreme Court judgments also.
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CONCLUSIONS:
In most of the cases, sex can be a wonderful practise, and can be performed with consent of partners, without violating the consent of anyone. It is necessary to shift the focus to consent from the current practise of locating violence in sex.

This piece has only engaged with obscenity laws in sex positive framework. Similarly Rape laws, family laws and constitutional laws can also benefit from a sex positive framework. Positive value to sexual pleasure, not only provides us with a better definition of obscenity which is currently based on a narrow understanding of sexual speech, it also helps in developing a language of consent. Sex-negative framework has taken us up to a point where we locate the violence in sex. It does not mean sex only involves violence. It is necessary to focus on the right of the woman to feel sexual pleasure, which gets denied in a sex negative framework

A sex positive approach transforms the debate surrounding several areas of law and requires scholars to undertake a more honest assessment. It provides us with a framework for laws that recognizes the value of sexual pleasure. Theorists have demonstrated with increasing sophistication how categories in law form part of the social process, through which new gendered and sexualized subjectivities are created. Sex-positive framework helps us incorporating languages around different forms of sexualities and helps us in developing sensitive attitude towards different genders. The recent NALSA judgment was a step towards in this regard. It provides us with a model – a safer sex negotiations and a set of better practises.

How does a sexual offender look?

I remember reading this tweet during the #MeToo campaign, a campaign about sharing stories of survivors of sexual violence.

Zara Larsson‏Verified account @zaralarsson
“Isn’t it strange how every woman knows someone who’s been sexually harassed but no man seem to know any harasser?”

In my head I did know sexual offenders, atleast I had an idea about them and how to keep some people safe. It was discomforting and at the same time made me realise how we all have an image of a sexual offender. The abstract person who might exist in some other part of the world, but not inner personal lives.

I recently attended a workshop by Enfold India Trust by Donald Findlater who has been working with Lucy Foundation, UK on combating Child Sexual Abuse. He has worked as Probation officer with Adult Sexual Offenders on Assessment and Treatment of male Sex Offenders.

He has been focussing about the “changing nature of sexual violence”. There is a lot of focus on Child Sexual Exploitation but not really enough conversations on Child Sexual Abuse with former discussing about strangers and latter focusing on known people. Data does prove that most of the offenders are known to young people. In all of these conversations, the prevention aspects have not really received its fair share deal of focus. There is so much focus on criminizalistion aspect of it, but there does not seem to be conversations around how to keep premises and young people safe.

Some of the myths are that the perpetrator is a stranger, when in fact it is usually someone you know well and that it can’t happen to our children. Offenders could be family, friends, religious leaders or people who are part of the household.

The knee jerk reaction to any reporting of Child Sexual Abuse in India is setting up of CCTV cameras and sex offenders registry. Donald Findlater shared some of the experiences of United Kingdom where some of the programmes had been more successful that setting up of CCTV cameras.

a) Running of Helpline: Running a helpline with  a service structure in place to address the concerns. Stopitnow.org is running a helpline for adults in the UK to ensure that those people who are troubled by their sexual thoughts about young children can seek help. The program is confidential and ensures that no one seeking assistance is arrested. We hope to stop the adult before he or she abuses a child.

b) The UK has a closed sexual offenders registry where only authorities have access which basically means only people who have been convicted of the crime fall in the list. That appears to have worked far more effectively in comparison to US Sexual offenders registry which has open registry.

He also emphasised on the myth that sex offenders can’t stop. In his experience it was possible to get help and treatment and it is possible to restrain actions.

In his experience a lot of work needed to be done with the communities. There is a need for stronger community bonds with young people and lot more open conversations with young people around sexuality. In the current stream of information on internet, young people were at risk as well as advantage of meeting different people in different set ups. Young people in schools, young people in public places and young people in internet spaces were the different groups that one needed to engage with.

Mr. Findlater did focus on the aspect that most of the young people take time to come out and share their experiences of abuse. A lot of them get abused by the age of 10 years and most of them have very limited understanding around sexuality. It would be more healthy if they had trusted set of people in their lives to have conversations with, which would help them understand the changes happening in their lives. Schools had to become that space which emphasised the need for comprehensive sexuality education.

Schools instead of focusing on CCTVs and waiting for the incident happen, they can ensure that most of their spaces are designed in such a way that young people feel comfortable accessing them. There are no parts of the compounds which are secluded from rest of the space. Every person working within an institution has been trained around sexuality and has been clearly guided through child protection policy.