Empowering women regarding their rights during gynecological treatment

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Women have a gender specific health requirement, from the onset of puberty to menopause.

Most women will agree that even an ordinary gynaecological examination - at the best of times and with the best of doctors - can make one feel uncomfortable, helpless and vulnerable in revealing intimate details and submitting to intrusive examinations.

The reality is that thousands of Indian women are forced to submit to insensitive, disrespectful & callous treatment from their doctors. Their rights to privacy, dignity and choices are blatantly trampled upon, in having to submit to male gynaecologists against their choice and in not being given the choice of making informed decisions regarding their treatment.

Many of these horrifying abuses are documented in news reports, but with no response either from policy-makers or from professional bodies.

·       Forced sterilisations of uninformed and unwilling women in health camps lacking in privacy, unhygienic conditions, most often by men gynaecologists, in the name of well being of women, without preoperative counselling or post operative care.

·       Unnecessary caesarian sections and procedures carried out without taking consent of women

·       Abuse, mistreatment and violence against women in labour.

·       Mistreatment and humiliation of survivors of rape and sexual violence

It is not only poor women who are subjected to these violations.  Recently, a good friend of mine, a successful professional went to a woman gynaecologist for her perimenopausal issues, and was advised diagnostic D& C to determine the right line of treatment.

To her utter shock, just before she was knocked unconscious, she realized that a male doctor had been brought in to carry out the procedure on her, an aspect which was absolutely mortifying for her and she had made her discomfort very clear to her doctor earlier.  When she came to, she got to know that in addition, an invasive surgery, complete uterine ablation which is burning of uterus lining with current, (leading to sterilization) had been performed on her along with insertion of a hormone eluding intrauterine device. Doctors she consulted later revealed that the procedure was an outdated one and was no longer the treatment of choice as it is loaded with complications and side effects. She was snubbed when she questioned  this doctor, who told her she knew what was good for her and she should be grateful for the therapeutic treatment.. The experience has left her raped and violated – very deeply traumatised. Any justice she tries to seek will be more draining and humiliating for her.

She is an educated, aware woman, who likes to take informed decisions regarding her body and life, choosing to live in the most natural manner. Yet, her rights were completely trampled upon, forcing her into a long struggle to recover physically, mentally and psychologically, quietly!

Her experience is a wake up call that the system needs to change!

My campaign is to call on the policy makers in the country to lay down clear and stringent standards for the examination, treatment and care of women patients, in the form of detailed written consent forms. Any violations should lead to harsh punishments.

The minimum standards should include

·       The right to be treated by a doctor of one’s choice (including the right to be treated by a woman doctor.)

·       Right to full information on her condition, its implications, the available treatments and their possible side effects.

·       The right to take a second opinion before opting for treatment, and the right to refuse treatment.

·       The right to privacy, confidentiality and bodily dignity during examination and treatment, especially when the patient is unconscious.

·       Any photography or videography during treatment or while unconscious, whether for educational or other purposes should be absolutely banned without informed & written consent of the patient.

This campaign also seeks to start a conversation to -

1.     Educate & empower women about their rights as a human being.

2.     Need to sensitise the medical fraternity that the women patients are to be treated with respect as the doctors would want their own bodies to be treated. Not as objects or animals.

3.     Gynae procedures need to be evaluated in terms of their safety and benefit and use of non invasive methods for general reproductive cycle of a woman should be encouraged. Right now, invasive procedures are carried out so easily on women, mutilating their natural systems as if women’s bodies are intrinsically flawed.

 4.    Society recognises many gender specific jobs, say female nurses for female patients, female security staff for frisking of women at airports or building entries, carried out in the privacy of a curtained cubicle, and men staff for men, women constables for women protesters or criminals. Recognising the need even public transport, cab service etc. is being looked into specifically for women, with women drivers & attendants.

It is high time Gynaecological service for the normal reproductive cycle of women’s health, is recognised as a highly gender specific domain. Why is it expected that a woman should be comfortable getting her private parts, exposed, examined and handled by men in an absolutely undignified posture? Private parts are private and for most gynae requirements, there is no emergency situation.

The right to privacy, right to bodily integrity and bodily autonomy, needs to be respected in this very basic medical requirements of a woman's normal life cycle.



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