Indian Policy makers and women rights activists have stressed the need for more concrete steps to improve women's access to quality healthcare services in the country.
In a unique initiative, the Women's Health Rights Advocacy Partnership (WHRAP), a South Asian forum, brought the grassroots women workers on a common platform in the Capital last week, where these women shared their experiences before a panel of policy-makers. Called 'Voices from the Ground', the platform included grassroots women from the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Andhra Pradesh.
This platform gave different stakeholders an opportunity to forcefully present issues related to rural women's access to quality maternal health services and share their experiences. Those present included senior policy makers, women survivors of poor maternal health care, grassroots women leaders, representatives of civil society, technical agencies, donors, officials of the health Ministry and technical agencies such as the UNFPA, WHO and the UNICEF.
Speaking before the panel, rural women recounted all the violations they had experienced at the hands of service providers. They highlighted how state health services are largely denied to the poor, dalit, tribal women and those from marginal communities.
At the end of the public hearing, the women made it very clear that unless demands like supply of essential drugs, equipment and availability of doctors are ensured, the quality of health services will never improve.
Reinforcing their demands, Nagina from Chitrakoot said, "Many Primary Health Centres (PHC) today are inaccessible to the rural women- we need additional PHCs and women doctors posted there to serve the women."
Sangeetsa from Gorakhpur, UP felt that they had represented the grievances of millions of village women and hoped that this would evoke the right response from the policy makers and some necessary changes would be brought about in their lives.
Ms Meenakshi Dutta Ghosh, Senior Advisor of the Planning Commission, has recommended a two-fold remedythe service provider should ensure free health care services to the marginalized women, and the community on its part should leverage the Right to Information Act and make the system accountable.
Ms S Jalaja, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, urged all the stakeholders to evolve a unified solution to the problem of healthcare access to women. She acknowledged that a large section of rural and poor women were not getting the kind of health care services they should, and pointed out that the root of the problem lay in the unchecked growth of population.
Indu Capoor, Founder Member, WHRAP felt it was imperative to ensure that the needs of marginalized women are met. The urgency of the hour calls for community-based health care system to address their comprehensive health needs.