Directive To All Member Doctors To Protect Sexual Health Rights of Unmarried Women
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“I visited a gynaecologist when my period was late. The doctor was extremely rude, condescending and intrusive. She started asking me personal questions such as whether I was married, if not, how long have I been with my boyfriend, how many times we’ve had sex unprotected and whether my parents know. I was visibly squirming as I inquired about why she was asking me all this. She ignored me and went on to tell me that if I have sex I should be prepared to get pregnant and get STDs. That not having sex is the only ‘solution’ to avoiding doubt. She started asking me when I plan to marry him and whether my parents should be told about this. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had with a doctor my whole life”.
This is Pooja's (28) experience when she as an unmarried woman visited a gynecologist in India and she is not alone.
Shame, fear, embarrassment and isolation are the emotions unmarried women in India face if they have to access basic sexual health services. It is common knowledge that there is a stigma around premarital sex and female sexuality in India but we ignore it’s real life consequences that risk unmarried women’s lives.
There are 3.6 million unsafe abortions in India every year and 10 women die from an unsafe abortion every single day.
19-year-old Gunjan (name changed), a Delhi University (DU) student, consumed 30 i-pills (an emergency contraceptive tablet) after accidentally conceiving, and bled so heavily that she had to be rushed to hospital by fellow hostellers. Not that she didn't try visiting a gynaecologist, but the old lady instead asked her - Do your parents know?
We feel threatened to visit a gynecologist due to the fear of ‘moral policing’ and being judged by service providers staff. This is unacceptable and a violation of our fundamental rights stripping us of our dignity, our freedom and our sexual choices.
We are a group of young women and we believe that everyone regardless of whether they’re married or not, whether they’re sexually active or not, is entitled to safe medical services.
That’s why we have started this petition asking The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) to send a directive to all it’s members to Protect Sexual Health Rights of Unmarried Women in India. FOGSI is the organisation that represents 223 member societies and over 29,310 individual gynaecologists and obstetricians spread across the country.
We have created a list of '10 Commandments' of behavior that we demand gynecologist commit to. These commandments focus on the values of respecting women's confidentiality, allowing them to make informed decisions about their own bodies and removing any bias around pre-marital sex. The 10 commandments have been created by engaging with over 500 women in New Delhi.
10 Commandments: As Gynecologists we commit to these 10 commandments of behavior with regards to unmarried female patients. We strive to make our clinics a safe and non-judgemental space where unmarried women are encouraged to access services and put their Health Over Stigma.
- Respecting your confidentiality and not revealing your information even if your parents or partner demands so.
- Treating you as an independent adult without asking for permission/involvement of parents or guardians.
- Not asking intrusive personal questions unless they are directly linked to a diagnosis and being transparent in explaining why.
- Not asking if you’re married but instead if you’re sexually active.
- Not pushing or prescribing you towards a certain behavior just based on our moral judgements or bias. Including respecting your choice of wanting or not wanting to have a child in the future.
- Welcoming people from all diverse backgrounds such as religion, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, class or race.
- Not placing the societal norm of virginity over your health instead giving the patient all the information before allowing them to make an informed decision about the services they want to avail such as pap smears.
- Following a precautionary approach and providing access to all information such as contraceptive methods.
- Openly and nonjudgmentally discussing sexual pleasure, satisfaction and all forms of menstrual hygiene choices with you.
- Asking your parents or partner to leave before inquiring about your sexual activity unless you explicitly want them present
Since no one is willing to fight for us, ordinary but strong unmarried women in New Delhi are taking up action to break the stigma and hold gynecologists accountable for non-judgemental and ethical service.
Help us reach out to The Federation of Obstetric & Gynecological Societies of India and get them to protect the sexual health rights of unmarried women in India.
Health Over Stigma is a campaign being run by a Non-Profit Organization called Haiyya.
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