Mr. Shashi Tharoor introduced a private members bill in 2019 and asked for amendments in some of the existing legislations on women’s health and periods. 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 around periods 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!
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?
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.