The Problem with the Surrogacy Bill 2016

In 2002, commercial surrogacy was legalized in India. Over the next decade, the industry grew tremendously, estimated to be a $2 billion a year business. However, a number of incidents between 2002 and 2015 highlight the absolute disregard for the rights of the surrogate mother and child, the lack of comprehensive laws related to surrogacy, and the exploitation of loopholes within the already existent ones.

Why Gender Matters in Activism: Feminism and Social Justice Movements

By  Manjima Bhattacharjya, Jenny Birchall, Pamela Caro, David Kelleher, and Vinita Sahasranaman

Article can be found here

Social justice movements are able to generate deep and lasting changes that policy change and development interventions alone cannot achieve. However, in many cases, women’s rights and gender justice remain low on the priorities of movements, even when women are active members. This article offers a preview of three case studies developed as part of the BRIDGE Cutting Edge programme on gender and social movements, which aims to inspire and support the inclusion of gender equality principles and practices in social justicemobilisation. The case studies feature the global human rights movement (with a focus on Amnesty International), the CLOCVia Campesina movement in Latin America, and the Occupy movement in the United States. We summarise some of the strategies each social movement has used to encourage the integration of women’s rights and gender justice in both internal and external-facing work; discuss some of the challenges that the movements have faced in implementing these strategies; distil common lessons from the three experiences; and end by suggesting some prerequisites for positive gender transformation in social justice movements.


लिबास का चयन और सहजता - Reena Khatoon

First published on In Plainspeak

पहनावे से जुडी नैतिक पुलिसिंग व लैंगिक भेदभाव को लेकर एक लंबा इतिहास रहा है। जहां पुरुषों के लिये उनका पहनावा उनके सामाजिक स्टेटस को दिखाता है वहीँ दूसरी ओर महिलाओ के लिये उनके पहनावे को लेकर मानदंड एकदम अलग है! जोकि महिलाओं के पहनावे के तरिके की निंदा करते हुए एक व्यक्तिगत पसंद पर नैतिक निर्णय बनाते हैं! भारत में कई राज्यों में महिलाएँ या लडकियां कुछ खास तरह के कपड़े नहीं पहन सकती है या फिर मैं ये कहूंगी कि ऐसे कपडे जिसमें वो ज्यादा आकर्शित लगती हों! जबकि पुरुष वही तंग जींस पहन सकते हैं पारदर्शी शर्ट पहनते हैं और धोती पहन सकते हैं!

Abortion and the Right to Health - Souvik Pyne

First published on the ASAP Blog

Right to health is a utopian dream where everyone deserves to be healthy and has the right to live in an environment which ensures a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just an absence of disease or infirmity. In the context of abortion, it implies to eliminate all predisposing factors, which lead to unsafe abortion; such as lack of knowledge about pregnancy and contraception, lack of accessible, safe and affordable abortion services and post abortion care.

Though addressing these issues and progressive efforts to fend off patriarchal influences over women’s sexuality and reproduction should remain as the vision, a more immediate endeavour should be to ensure the right to comprehensive healthcare which vis a vis abortion translates into access to safe abortion services devoid of all barriers and stigma routinely faced by women across the globe like legal (restrictive laws, other’s opinion/authorization), physical (poor availability and uneven distribution), social (abortion stigma for both seeker and provider), financial (procedural and associated costs).

Abortion enables women to have control over their bodies and in order to make this a reality it is imperative to strive for the right to abortion within the ambit of the right to health as a fundamental women’s health right.

सिनेमा, संगीत और सहमति पर बातचीत - Manak Matiyani

First published on In Plainspeak

कुछ समय पहले सोशल मीडिया पर रोबिन थक  के गीत ‘ब्लर्ड लाइन्स’ और उसके विडियो के बारे में बड़ी चर्चा हो रही थी जिसने लोकप्रिय सांकृतिक कथानकों में सहमति और शोषण के बीच की रेखा को धूमिल कर दिया था। 

इस चर्चा ने मुझे हमारे उन देसी गीतों के बारे में सोचने पर मजबूर कर दिया जो विवादस्पद रहे हैं।

नो सेक्स इन ऑफिस – अगर प्यार सच्चा है तो अलग बात है! - Reena Khatoon

This article was first published in TARSHI's magazine, In Plainspeak

इन प्लेनस्पिक के इस काम व यौनिकता के मुद्दे को सुनने के बाद पहला विचार मन में आया कि मैं कार्यस्थल पर होने वाली यौन हिंसा के बारे में लिखूंगी। फिर ऑफिस में रोमांटिक रिश्तों व लव स्टोरी के बारे में याद आया जो हम सब अपने काम के आसपास देखते या सुनते आये हैं और यह बॉलीवुड फिल्मों का भी पसंदीदा मुद्दा रहा है। मुझे ये बड़ा ही रोमांचक लगा, और जब मैंने लिखना शुरू किया तो एक सवाल मेरे दिमाग में आया – क्या कार्यस्थल पर इस मुद्दे से सम्बंधित कोई नीति है?

Right to information and Safe Abortion - Souvik Pyne

This article was originally published on The ASAP Blog

Abortion is a universal phenomenon occurring throughout recorded history and presumably even beyond that. Thus, abortion is quite a common phenomenon across the globe. When performed safely, it rarely has any complication but when done unsafely, often leads to much morbidity and mortality (every 8 minutes a woman dies of unsafe abortion related complications in the world). Knowledge about safe abortion and contraception along with sex education plays a crucial role in determining the level of interventions applied to avoid unwanted pregnancies and safety of the method women resort to when the need of abortion arises. The entitlement to proper information in this regard has been bolstered in the ICPD (International Conference on Population & Development) Program of Action.

Now let us look into some of the underlying principles for right to information.

First, is the principle of neutrality. It reflects the non-judgemental stance about the issue irrespective of social or legal environment. This is essential in restrictive settings. In liberal settings, the information should emphasize the legality as well its safety and efficacy.

Second, is the humanistic principle. It reflects the concern for health and life beyond any moral or legal implications. This aspect needs to be maximised irrespective of legal status of abortion.

Third, is the pragmatic principle. It implies two dimensions- it is unrealistic to eliminate the need for abortion; safe abortion is a time tested cost-effective intervention. This too needs to be focussed irrespective of the legality in a setting.

Fourth, is the human rights principle. It mandates a state responsible to address issues which create or exacerbate situations which are harmful to health as well as look into the effective implementation of the interventions. In a restrictive setting, it can support ‘harm-reduction’ models but in the long run needs to reiterate to eliminate the causality also i.e. the illegality of abortion.

Thus, right to information is a very strong tool to empower women about ways to control their fertility and enable them to make an informed decision, which is very crucial. It is also the state’s responsibility to ensure realisation of this vital right in its enactment so that it doesn’t end up being only an empty rhetoric.


Erdman, J. N. (2011). Access to information on safe abortion: a harm reduction and human rights approach. Harvard Journal of Law & Gender34, 413-462.

Study Reveals That If You Have ‘Sex Problems’, These ‘Friendly’ Services Won’t Help - Manasa PV

Originally published on Youth Ki Awaaz

You may have spotted posters from train windows, as you enter stations, or at traffic signals that offer to solve your ‘sex problems’. Right from these unremarkable flyers touting unregistered medical practitioners, to over-the-counter (OTC) contraceptives that are dealt, as though, to fugitives, and the dark coloured polyethene bags that seal off sanitary napkins from the outside gaze, the enigma that surrounds transactions of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in the country, is only comparable to that which surrounds illicit drug trade. Social and cultural practice is to regulate even the most basic conversation on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and bring it within the axes of ‘marriage’ and ‘procreation’, so much so that we have prominent judges of the high courts issuing ‘marriage’ as a sentence for rapists, post-conviction, as if submitting to matrimony is the ultimate atonement. This systemic epidemic of sex-shaming equals to most of us having no information whilst growing up, or being ashamed of our curiosity about our bodies, sex and desire. The utter absence of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) also contributes to high maternal mortality rates, rampant early and child marriage, a strapping HIV-positive population as well as a significant unmet need for contraception.

It is in this climate that we at The YP Foundation decided to conduct a preliminary audit of government and non-government health centres in and around communities in the National Capital Region, where we impart comprehensive sexuality education. 18 young volunteers and staff from the Know Your Body Know Your Rights Program conceptualised and implemented an audit to assess the quality of SRH services for youth. They took on the role of …well regular young people in need of condoms, birth control, pregnancy kits, HIV counselling etc.

Here is what we found:-

Shame Games

The National Adolescent Health Programme (Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram; RKSK) guidelines 2014, perhaps the most progressive and comprehensive of the Indian policy landscape, stresses on the importance of the presence of 3 components in every centre that provides SRH facilities: information, commodities and services. Now, regardless of the availability of commodities or services, the real challenge that the hospital and staff seemed to struggle with was information disclosure. How does one confide to staff who are uncomfortable to speak on the subject themselves?

We discovered along the way, that hospital staff had two ways of dealing with their unease. In most of our interactions, we encountered either:

Strategic silence – sometimes their limited information on the subject through clipped responses, censored the questions we could have asked or the conversations we could have pursued to build trust and thereof safe spaces.

Or, overt moralising, what I like to call the ‘circle of shame’ – shaming us for shaming them by requesting access to improper things, and subsequently bringing shame upon our family and ourselves.

Neither assuaged the experience.

“The chemist shop in the facility premises required doctor’s permission to buy a kit. Firstly, we were sent to three different rooms to get the CMO/doctor’s permission. In the third room, a female assistant lashed out at us saying, ‘Sharam nahi aati? Parents ki izzat mitti me mila di (Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? You are ruining your family’s honour).’ It would have been downright humiliating for any person let alone a distressed young girl. In the end, I wanted to be out of the hospital as soon as possible.”

Health care practitioners should ideally play the role of a facilitator. But increasingly, we began to observe that either consciously or unconsciously, they would slip into the role of a gatekeeper. A moralising ground does not qualify as a safe space, and in fact adversely contributes to mental trauma.

Sticky-Stacky Stigmas

It was also interesting to note that their stigma against talking about, leave alone treating, SRH services piggybacked somewhat comfortably on their stigmas attached to sex outside of the confines of marriage, which in turn piggybacked on their intolerance towards people of a different religion, weak academic performers, independent youth and a host of other seemingly unconnected things.

“The room was empty except for 3-4 doctors who looked like the ‘gossipy neighbourhood aunties’. And as we were about to find out, they behaved exactly in the same manner. What college, they asked. What subjects, what percentage. Do you live with parents? Are you sexually active? With more than one guy- this was not so much as asked as shouted. And then, are you Christian?”

On some occasions, the younger doctors seemed happy enough to treat the patient without passing judgement, but the older doctors and assisting nurses assumed the garb of a disciplinarian.

On other occasions, doctors were found to be selectively empathetic – privileging one SRH service over the other. There was a stark difference in the attitudes of some health care practitioners who were warm and helpful when it came to services such as contraception, HIV and STIs, but haranguing when it came to abortion.

On still other occasions, they were guilty of granting smoother SRH services to boys over girls; and upper middle class, English speaking patients, whilst reserving dispassionate judgement for everyone else – the peer educators would come out with lukewarm reports only to find a disillusioned fellow patient. So despite wielding our English-speaking class privilege, being at the receiving end of such differential treatment based on banal biases, made us sit up and think – what then, would be the treatment meted out to young girls from the communities we work in?

Lack Of Signages

Information education and communication (IEC) material was available only partially and sporadically, across all centres!

“GTB Hospital is like a maze. It is a huge hospital and there is no clarity whatsoever as to which building one has to go to as there is a shortage of sign boards. It is not like the services are not available here, just that reaching the right place is a herculean task.”

Proactive disclosure of the gamut of SRH problems and services through intuitive flyers and sign boards that lead the way to counselling rooms and testing labs also can minimise patient-patient or patient-staff interaction, offering the former the benefit of privacy and shrouding them from harsh judgement and scrutiny of community moral police.

Due to the stigma surrounding most SRH services, especially HIV/pregnancy testing or counselling in the case of sexual contraception/abuse/violence, and the larger community’s likelihood to suppress and shame, creating safe spaces by guaranteeing privacy and confidentiality, also becomes doubly important to encourage young people to avail of these services. Unfortunately, there is no escaping nosy neighbours of neighbours anywhere in India, least of all at community health centres!

“It was an open room where all the patients stood in barely a line and just stated their problems in front of everybody. No privacy whatsoever.”

“One of the things that I didn’t like about this centre was that a patient having an upset stomach walked into the room, right in the middle of my abortion counselling session.”

On the whole, the team had mixed feelings on the pilot study. Their preliminary excitement regarding the ‘plain-clothes audit’ was short lived. The volunteers may have been assuming the
guise of young people in need of counselling, contraception or kits, but their masks were fast rendered inconsequential. The slut-shaming and unsparing character assassination that accompanied
the study was but directed at their realities. Such personal assault dampened their spirit and frustrated some of them to the point of tears. Both the government and non-government health centres were ridden with the same-old age-old, patriarchal, sexist and non-secular bigotry transmitted by staff and communities who frequented their corridors. Uninterrupted treatment was accorded only to the PEs who conformed to their narrow ideals.

In the name of patient history, a person’s identity was dissected, its markers scrutinised: starting with gender, sexuality, class, religion, academic merit, and then moving on to an avalanche of micro markers – none of which was their business. Not surprisingly, the tendency to regulate a woman’s sexuality over a man’s was painfully evident, and how. Add to this mix, a trans person, a Dalit or a differently abled person and the experience could well be traumatic. We then wonder if the singular subject of this exclusive public health system is simply – an able-bodied Hindu man.

Illustrations by Vanika Sharma, ‘Know Your Body Know Your Rights’