Fourth International Women's Health Meeting in Costa Rica, women's rights
activists proposed May 28 as the International Day of Action for Women's
The objective of
this day is to build a movement around Sexual and Reproductive Health and
Rights (SRHR) and give a platform to the issues faced by women and girls.
Across the world, women are denied control of their own bodies and forced into
early marriages, childbirth and sterilization. The International Day of Action
for Women's Health intends to address this form of institutionalized gender
violence against women. This is a day to remind governments across the world
that women's health is crucial to the development of a nation.
Overall objectives of the International Day of Action
for Women's Health:
- Prevent abuse and violence against women's bodies in relation to
their sexual and reproductive health
- Prevent forced sterilization
- Enable access to contraceptives thereby empowering women to make a
- Enable access to safe and legal abortion services
inaugural launch, the International Day of Action for Women's Health has been
successful raising awareness on a number of issues including:
- Access to quality health care
- Gender and poverty
- Health reforms in women's issues
- Women and HIV/AIDS
- SRHR for young people
- Access to sex education
Campaign and Theme
This year, the
International Day of Action for Women's Health campaign aims at ensuring that
the United Nations Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals include women's
sexual and reproductive health.
The campaign continues
from 2014 when it was re-launched to account for SRHR in the Post-2015
Development Agenda. In May 2014, the Women's Global Network for Reproductive
Rights (WGNRR) campaigned to revitalize and mobilize greater support and action
for SRHR. Reflecting on the past 30 years, women's rights activists stressed
the need to avoid reducing women's health to just maternal health. They also
raised the critical issue of the need to take in account diversities among
women and their actual needs. This year the campaign also includes sex education
across the world are currently in the final stages of establishing the
Post-2015 Development Agenda including a set of Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs). This year's call-to-action is to draw attention to the systemic
violence and denial of sexual and reproductive rights of women. WGNRR has been
collaborating with more than 20 international, national and regional
organizations across the globe to demand inclusion of women's health rights
into the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
The theme for
this year is "Our Health, Our Rights, Our Lives! End Violence Against Women in
ALL its Forms." The theme rightly centres the needs of women with a
call-to-action to end violence in all forms. Sexual violence
and denial of reproductive rights seriously damages the overall health and
well-being of women across the globe. Whether it is a forced marriage, marital
rape or forced sterilization, such violence deeply impacts not only the woman
but the community at large. The theme captures the right of autonomy and
decision making by women when it comes to their health and lives.
2015 is also
significant in realigning women's health rights to the development goals of
nations given the fact that no nation can make progress until and unless it
achieves gender equity and justice.
The Indian Scenario
India has a
low-ranking when it comes to gender inequality and justice.
According to the
United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Human Development Report 2013,
India ranks 137 out of 187 countries on the gender inequality index. This
report assesses a country's performance on human development indicators like
health, education and income. The gender inequality index measures the loss to
a country's progress and human development due to gender inequalities on three
counts: reproductive health, women's empowerment and labour market access.
India scores low not only on a skewed sex ratio with 914 females to 1000 males
but also lags behind in women's education, employment and health.
in India is systemic and deeply entrenched. Not a day goes by without newspaper
sexual harassment and molestation and rapes. From the Nirbhaya case in Delhi
(2012) to the numerous child sexual abuse in schools in Bangalore and other
cities across India, the facts and statistics on rape and child sexual abuse
- Over the years 2011, 2012 and 2013; 82,836 cases of rape were
- More than 75 cases of rape are registered on a daily basis.
- On an average from the years 2011-2013, 93 persons were arrested on
- According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights 2013 report, more
than 48,000 child rape cases were recorded from 2001-2011.
The story does
not end with this. Gender violence in India interlocks with poverty, caste,
class, religion, lack of sufficient public health resources and lack of
education to routinely deny basic human rights to women and children. Other
myriad forms of gender violence include child marriages, forced marriages, marital
rape, forced prostitution, forced motherhood and denial of access to health
resources. Gender violence is also insidious among adolescents and young adults
often taking the form of subtle sexual harassment.
Women, who have
been at the receiving end of gender violence, experience a deep sense of shame
and dishonour coupled with feelings of low self-esteem. Loss of control over
one's body and the inability to protect oneself has a significant psychological
impact. Lack of choices and access to safe environments locks women into
vicious cycles of violence and hurt. *Bhagya (33), *Sudha (28) and *Manjula
(36), residents of a suburb in Bangalore have a similar tale to recount of
their experiences of bodily violence, loss of control, access to healthcare and
denial of human rights. All three women were forcibly married in their teens.
Belonging to low-income households, none of them were allowed to complete their
basic education. With no choice or say in their marriage, they were forced to
contend with domestic violence and abuse in their husband's homes.
that being a teenager, her body was not ready for reproduction and she suffered
three painful miscarriages. She had to bear the abuse of her husband and
in-laws for not producing a child until she finally bore a child at the age of
22. She says that her overall health has been badly affected and she suffers
from iron-deficiency anemia
Working as a
domestic household helper, she now understands her basic rights over her body
and the importance of reproductive health.
Sudha's tale of
woe began when she give birth to a girl at the age of 17. She had to put up
with the curse of her in-laws and husband who blamed her for not producing a
male child. She was forced to go for another pregnancy within a year despite
her unwillingness. When the second child was also a girl, her in-laws and
husband threw her out of the house. She finally returned with her two daughters
to her parents' home. With the help of a nearby school teacher, Sudha got a job
as a school attendant and managed to complete her SSLC in 2013. Her job is now
secure and she lives in a rented house. She is angry that she had to face such
violence in her in-laws home and angry that her husband subjected her to such
torture. She is keen to educate her daughters and wants to ensure that they are
financially independent. She believes that her daughters should have the rights
to decide when and whom they want to marry.
Manjula works in
a garment factory and is a single parent to her son and daughter. Married to an
alcoholic husband at the age of 14, she bore the brunt of his alcoholism each
night as he got home drunk and verbally and sexually abused her. With two young
children to take care and no suitable qualification, she had very few choices.
In 2000, a neighbour took her to a garment factory and got her a job. Since
then she has not looked back. She moved out of her husband's home and stays on
her own with her two children. She says she has had enough and cannot tolerate
indignities anymore. She wants her children to study as much as they want and
wants them to have better choices than what she had in life.
marriages severely impact not only the girl or woman in question but also
families, children and communities. Teenage
ravage and destroy the body and result in general weakness
and anemia. According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW),
47% of young girls are married before the age of 18. Pregnancy is the leading
cause of death for girls 15-19 globally. The problem runs deep, as there are
social pressures from caste and community groups. Child marriage is a product
of entrenched structural violence and it is essential for the government to
take steps to educate communities where these practices prevail.
International Day of Action for Women's Health is important in a country like
India to raise public awareness of women's health, reproductive rights and the
need to tackle structural gender violence. Significantly the theme, "Our
Health, Our Rights, Our Lives! End Violence Against Women in ALL its Forms" is
apt for India as it clarifies the connection between health, basic rights,
gender violence and its relation to women's lives. For women like Bhagya, Sudha
and Manjula who have faced structural violence in the institution of marriage
and family, this day and its theme will have no meaning until and unless our
government recognizes the absolute importance of gender equality and justice.
As a nation, we cannot progress until gender issues are seen as a significant
part of the larger discourse of economic and human development. Systemic and
structural violence against women has no place in developmental discourses and
this needs a radical change in India.
It is crucial
for the central and state governments to work in tandem to prioritize women's
health and overall empowerment. Women-focused programs are essential to enable
women to make strategic choices on key issues like livelihood, marriage,
reproduction and health. Whatever the solution be, whether in the form of
large-scale public awareness and education campaigns or more stringent
legislations against child marriage; it should be targeted at rooting out
gender violence faced by women in India.
changed to protect identity