New Delhi, 19th August
Delhi Medical Association and Delhi Medical Council commit to providing safe and non-judgmental sexual health services to unmarried women in New Delhi
This has happened as a result of a revolutionary campaign ‘Health Over Stigma’ spearheaded by young unmarried women to hold service providers accountable for providing safe and non-judgmental sexual and reproductive health services.
The Delhi Medical Association and Delhi Medical Council on Monday stated that they are committed to providing safe and non-judgmental sexual health services to unmarried women in New Delhi. Dr. Girish Tyagi, President, Delhi Medical Association and Dr. Arun Gupta, President, Delhi Medical Council at a discussion held at India International Centre by Haiyya, expressed solidarity with the campaign Health Over Stigma, to hold service providers accountable to stigma-free sexual and reproductive health services.
“This is a very important issue that is not talked about so much, and I assure you the DMA is with the campaign,” said Dr. Girish Tyagi, President, Delhi Medical Association, adding that the body represents over 15,000 doctors in New Delhi and will be willing to work with the campaign to further the cause.
Dr. Arun Gupta President of Delhi Medical Council, a statutory body enacted under Delhi medical Act 1997, has in a letter expressed with the campaign. “We acknowledge the responsibility of ensuring quality and friendly services to every individual lies on doctors, hospital chains and medical bodies . No woman should be denied or receive subpar services due to their identities such as marital status, caste, religion etc. As the President of the Delhi Medical Council, I commit that we believe in ensuring safe and non-judgmental services to all unmarried women in the city and encourage them to avail sexual and reproductive health services as per their needs,” said Dr. Arun Gupta, President, Delhi Medical Council. He added that the DMC stands in solidarity with the campaign and will take the steps in their jurisdiction duty to create a safe environment for all women, and also support the campaign to get the India Medical Association onboard. The DMC has invited the doctor fraternity to join them in making spaces safer and accessible to unmarried women.
The campaign began in 2017 as an initiative to end the shame and stigma around young unmarried women’s sexual health and choices, and to bridge the gap that persists between unmarried women and sexual health providers. Natasha Chaudhary, Co-director, Haiyya, said, “It all started 2 years ago, when one of our colleagues had to undergo an abortion. It was a traumatic and harrowing experience she went through at the clinic, where her dignity was shamed and destroyed. Following that event, we found ourselves sharing personal stories with each other that we had never shared before. We all had approached our sexual health from a place of fear, and we could not hold service providers accountable, with no bargaining power as a community. This issue has persisted because power lies with age-old institutions where women are disengaged from decision making processes that affect their very own lives. We needed to flip this by organizing unmarried women as a collective and moving the onus and accountability on medical institutions.”
To legitimize the unseen issue, the unmarried women across New Delhi conducted a one-of-a-kind survey in New Delhi with over 750+ unmarried women, to understand their challenges when accessing sexual health services. The findings of the survey revealed that as low as 1% of women said they had received information pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and rights from their mothers, doctors or government campaigns. 53% of these women felt unsure if the sexual health problems they were facing were severe enough to visit a gynaecologist. The findings of the survey are published in the ‘Health Over Stigma’ campaign report by Haiyya.
Dr. Nimmi Rastogi, Health Lead, Dialogue & Development Commission, Delhi Government, as a gynaecologist is also in support of the campaign, “As health professionals and specialists it is not our place or job to judge women or pass unsolicites advice, or semonize them about their sexual practices or choices. Our job is to make sure they’re healthy.”
Dr. Surbhi Singh, President, Sachhi Saheli, an organisation working on eradicating menstruation stigma and a partner in the campaign said, “I’ve been on the other side and been biased, and as a doctor never thought that being judged on a patient’s marital status was a real issue. But working on this campaign was liking looking in the mirror. I understand exactly how judgement is a real issue, and can affect lives of women. I’m happy the campaign in gaining momentum and support.”
“We formed a core committee for the campaign with unmarried women and allies, and other organisations working in the sexual and reproductive health rights space,” said Sreejani, campaign lead, Haiyya. A few months ago, the campaign leaders from Haiyya and Sachhi Saheli, a partner organisation reached out to the Delhi Medical Council, lodging a complaint letter to put forward the issue, bring the urgency to their notice and to accept the demands as a code of conduct to be implemented across Delhi to be followed by all doctors.
“Now the campaign is focussed on getting other bodies onboard by shifting the onus from unmarried women to medical service providers, including private hospital chains like Medanta, Fortis, FOGSI, and public health bodies like the State Health Ministry, Delhi Medical Association, to stand in solidarity with the campaign by accepting the code of conduct,” Sreejani added.
The campaign has also started to gain momentum online, as unmarried women have started sharing on social media paltforms their stories of stigma and discrimination that they face at the gynaecologist. The campaign is also working with Bangalore-based non-profit Jhatkaa.org on an online petition demanding non-judgemental services.
Find the full report and factsheet here → Health Over Stigma Campaign report
Abhishek Desai, Communications Manager, Haiyya
Haiyya was founded in 2015, with a vision to rebuild and transform the social fabric of India, where young leaders and their organisations are building grassroots citizen power to strengthen democracy, governance and human rights. We equip social changemakers, organizations and citizen groups to learn, innovate and adapt to the needs of the changemaking landscape. Using cutting edge modern day campaigning and community engagement frameworks, we create a loud thumping voice of participatory, people-powered programs.
Inspired by the work of Professor Marshall Ganz from Harvard Kennedy School and the adaptation of his work in President Obama’s electoral campaign 2008 & 2012, we at Haiyya are applying and innovating ‘Community Organizing’ in India. We started our journey by running local level campaigns and training young people to become community organizers. Today, we have put ourselves on the global map with prestigious awards, recognitions, affiliations and partnerships. We have worked with many clients, partners and funders to design campaign strategy, implement programs and training curriculums engaging more than 5,000 change-makers in our network. In the past 3 years, we have been hired by reputed organizations, funded by trusted grant bodies and collaborated with renowned partners to advance leadership and participatory approaches that build sustainable change in India.