Strive for personal freedom and reproductive empowerment

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Strive for personal freedom and reproductive empowerment

Monday, 28 August 2023 | Debanjana Choudhuri

Strive for personal freedom and reproductive empowerment

Open conversations, accurate information dissemination, and accessible support are crucial to achieving reproductive health

As India commemorates its 77th year of independence, notable strides have been taken in comprehending the concepts of personal freedom and reproductive empowerment. A notable shift is observed in the increasing candidness surrounding discussions about reproductive well-being. However, the journey is far from complete. Within numerous cultures, including that of India, women and individuals continue to grapple with limited autonomy to shape their destinies. This scarcity of agency stems from their economic, political, and sociocultural standings, resulting in a disproportionate power dynamic within relationships.

A study by Lancet helps in understanding the degree of the problem globally – with 16 crore women and adolescents having an unmet need for contraception.  In India the problem is more complex. For the majority of married women, the prerogative is to make contraceptive choices independently, as decisions about contraception primarily rest with their husbands.

In addition, a prevailing reluctance persists among individuals to engage openly in dialogues regarding their reproductive choices. This apprehension stems primarily from the fear of societal judgment. The conventional link between family planning and marital unions has fostered the misconception that family planning holds no relevance for the unmarried. Urgent awareness surrounding reproductive health is imperative within the nation. India's public health system grapples with multifaceted challenges, encompassing inadequate funding, subpar infrastructure, scarcity of medicines and diagnostic facilities, and a shortage of skilled medical practitioners. The country contends with one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates, largely attributed to inadequate access to quality reproductive healthcare. Privatisation and corporate involvement in healthcare, coupled with lax regulation, have further compromised healthcare quality, accessibility, and affordability, disproportionately affecting girls, women, and marginalised communities.

The cost of birth control pills is also not accessible and can be financially burdensome for lower-middle-class individuals. Similarly, access to safe, top-tier abortion services, inclusive of information, counselling, and post-abortion care, remains insufficient. Moreover, the adverse effects of early marriage on reproductive health and rights stand inadequately addressed.

Stigmatisation taints discussions on reproductive choices, shrouding them in shame and secrecy. Disentangling from this stigma is pivotal for the complete empowerment of individuals. Unbiased access to services, discreet counselling, and youth-friendly healthcare, alongside the elimination of judgment, emerges as crucial.

Affordability is a keystone in ensuring sexual and reproductive health services are accessible to all. Equitable cost considerations for essential goods and services, encompassing elements influencing sexual and reproductive health, are pivotal in averting undue healthcare expenses on individuals and families. Ensuring vulnerable groups possess the means to access and disseminate health-related information, coupled with the right to partake in decisions influencing their health, necessitates careful policy crafting.

Reproductive health transcends mere contraceptive solutions; it encompasses agency and the quality of one's reproductive health. Such decisions are inherently personal. It is imperative to foster a shared understanding that sexual health services and contraceptives extend beyond select individuals. Open conversations, accurate information dissemination, and accessible support are crucial to facilitating decisions that align with individual well-being.

(The writer works with MSI Reproductive Choices-Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India; Views are personal)

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