And writer Manjima Misra said:
Right to healthcare is a basic human right. It provides a social safety net to people across the socio-economic hierarchy. Consulting a gynecologist should be an affordable right accessible to those who are disadvantaged due to age and lack of finances.#MyGynaecStory
— Manjima Misra (@ManjimaMisra) November 5, 2019
Armed with these testimonies, Haiyya’s next step was to take aim at doctors, realizing their support was needed to force change within the health care services.
Dr. Shehla Jamal, a doctor that attended one of Haiyya’s initial discussions between doctors and unmarried women, has been involved with the campaign now for over three years. She spoke to me by phone from Delhi:
Prior to this, I used to judge every unmarried girl I treated, and I am not even that old, I’m only in my early 30s. But that type of societal thinking, it is engrained. We tend to think in one way, whatever we have been taught, whatever we have been seeing around us. But until someone comes and makes us aware of the necessity of this issue, the issue is not going to be taken up, no one is going to give it even a second thought.
The campaign then devised a set of minimum standards for doctors when treating women for gynecological issues. These “10 commandments” include rules such as maintaining the confidentiality and treating female patients as independent entities, necessary as doctors often seek the permission of a husband before treatment.
In an important victory for the campaign, these standards were adopted by two medical councils in 2019, including the Delhi Medical Council, one of the largest medical associations in Delhi.
In the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, accessing sexual health services has never been harder for unmarried women in India, and Health Over Stigma has moved online as it attempts to maximize its reach. Instagram is the main vehicle of communication where the campaign has been sharing contacts of amenable gynecologists, and arranging “access days,” when women can discuss sexual health concerns online with doctors.
The campaign is now in the process of building a network of unmarried women volunteers, known as “defenders,” and doctors willing to treat patients without judgement of their marital status, across the four cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Guwahati. The groups are now meeting online, sharing stories and strategizing how to bring change. The movement is spreading, but as India’s social structures continue to develop, there is still a lot of ground to cover.
In Jaipur, the newly single Devi is pushing her chole bhature around her plate and chatting. “Everyone is having sex in India,” she says. “But it is in the shadows,” as she fires up Facebook to connect with others like her.