Delhi: An NGO and 500 women fight for 'Health Over Stigma'

In Delhi, a group of 500-odd college-going girls and young professionals are part of a revolutionary campaign called 'Health Over Stigma,' and call themselves 'Sexual Health Rights Defenders.'

How liberal and modern is Delhi when it comes to sexual health rights of single women in the city? Certainly not as cool as our popular culture-movies, fashions and novels-portray and like us to believe!

Sample this: 19-year-old Gunjan (name changed), a Delhi University (DU) student, consumed 30 i pills (an emergency contraceptive tablet) after accidentally conceiving, and bled so heavily that she had to be rushed to hospital by fellow hostellers. Not that she didn't try visiting a gynaecologist, but the old lady instead asked her-Do your parents know?

However, a group of 500-odd college-going girls and young professionals have decided they will not take this nonsense any longer. Initiated by an NGO called 'Haiyya,' they are part of a revolutionary campaign in Delhi titled 'Health Over Stigma.'

Bearing the symbol of a caricatured 'happy' pink uterus, the girls call themselves 'Sexual Health Rights Defenders' (SHRD). They network over a wide range of universities, startups, big companies, online youth platforms like youthkiawaaz, hospitals and doctors, etc., and take their bold message forward.

'IT'S A MYTH THAT UNSAFE ABORTION OCCURS ONLY IN RURAL JHARKHAND, CHHATTISGARH, BENGAL'

Their leader and founder of Haiyya, Aprajita Pandey, says, "It's a myth that cases of unsafe abortion occur in just rural pockets of far flung Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Bengal. As per estimates, 10 women die of unsafe abortions in India every day, which sees about 68 lakh pregnancy terminations a year. A chunk of them take place in Delhi."

She herself realised how grave this issue is when she contracted a severe case of UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) in 2013. "The doctor I visited took so much interest in my personal life rather than the UTI, which comes from even ubiquitous sources like dirty toilets, I stormed out of the clinic. That day I decided I had to do something about this," she informed.

A volunteer with Haiyya, Indraprastha College student Divyangana Sharma said, "It is sad that there is so much shame and dishonour associated with single women's sexual health. They cannot approach doctors for abortions, knowledge of contraceptives, even something like a suspected breast cancer without fears of snide remarks and being judged."

Dr. Ankita Srivastava, a Senior Resident at Lok Nayak Jaiprakash (LNJP) Hospital, and associated with the campaign said, "You will be surprised I see two-three cases of complications in ectopic pregnancies (conceiving in the fallopian tube instead of uterus) from taking over-the-counter MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) pills in young girls every week."

"The truth is that you can legally abort a child till 12 weeks of pregnancy in an authorised hospital, under the care of a gynaeocologist. But girls are obviously scared," she rued. In the sisterhood that has arisen from the medical grievance, 'Health Over Stigma,' which once had only 10 girl members, now has over 500.

'WE'VE CROWD-SOURCED A LIST OF DOCTORS'

Mrinalini Dayal, a campaign manager with Haiyya, said, "We have links with students in Lady Shri Ram College, Miranda House, Dyal Singh College, Ambedkar University, etc. We have already crowd sourced a list of 500 doctors who are professional and trustworthy and refer them to women in distress."

"We have recently liaisoned with URJA (the umbrella group of RWAs in Delhi) and have plans to speak to the Delhi Medical Association (DMA) and Indian Medical Association (IMA) too. We will not stop till we have our constitutional rights taken out of the hands of patriarchy and restored to us," she resolved.

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