KOCHI: Recently, state Women and Child Development Department intensified its ‘Her Body, Her Choice’. campaign. It aims to reinforce the idea that a woman’s body is her own and any choices that affect it is her own.
Despite women-friendly laws, the weight of a patriarchal society is really what stands between women and their right to be treated sovereign. From being able to seek medical help for abortion or STDs to the right to proper sexual education, even being vocal could put a target on any woman. TNIE speaks to women in Kochi
25-year old Serin (name changed) has been struggling with polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) since she was a kid. And so, irregular menstrual cycles weren’t a new thing for this. Naturally, when she got pregant, she suspected nothing for the first two months. But a personal home test confirmed that she was, Serin knew she was not ready for motherhood — she was not financially independent or mentally prepared to be a parent.
Serin was living with her partner in Ernakulam, and the couple approached a few gynaecologists in the city. While many sent her away with smug remarks, one of them even handed her a copy of the Bible, and made her promise she won’t commit murder! The young woman was made to feel guilty over her decision to have sex outside wedlock and get pregnant. If that wasn’t enough, the doctor called her a ‘sinner and murderer’ for choosing to kill her unborn baby.
Depressed and helpless, the girl went to a private clinic in Thiruvananthapuram, where she was given a tablet that would abort her pregnancy. She went home and took it alone, dealt with almost three days of excessive bleeding and weakness. She had been bedridden for weeks as a result of the faulty, half-baked procedure, leaving her traumatised.
Unfortunately, Serin’s case is not a rare example, says writer and gynaecologist Dr Khadija Mumtaz. “There were doctors who insisted even married women bring their husbands so they can ‘permit’ the abortion. The husband may be employed in Gulf country. There is still this concept of a husband and his family having ownership over the foetus, even when the woman is not prepared for parenthood,” she says.
“Earlier, when abortion procedures were invasive, we used to insist on a responsible bystander be available outside the operation theatre for emergencies like arranging blood or medicine. It had nothing to do with permission from the husband and family or the relatives,” Dr Mumtaz added.
The Department of Women and Child Development’s recent campaign #IniVendaVittuveezhcha (no more compromises) on social media platforms is highlighting such unwritten rules that suffocate women. The campaign states that a pregnant woman, whether married or unmarried, has the right to decide whether to keep the baby or not. If a woman comes forward quoting the law, the doctors is obliged to perform the abortion.
This year, the Central Government amended the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, allowing abortions in cases where the pregnancy is older than 20 weeks but not more than 24 weeks.
Dr Veena J S, a social activist and expert in forensic medicine, feels that hospitals should be transparent about offering services including abortion. “When they can mention every other service, from oncology to cardiology, safe abortion should be given prominence too. Giving importance to legal abortion will remove the stigma attached to it and give way for healthy procedures,” she added.
The Women and Child Development Department has come up with a series of campaigns over the past two months titled ‘No more compromises’. A variety of topics affecting women including body shaming, victim blaming, sexual harassment, workplace harassment, equality, domestic violence and freedom to choose fall under it. Officials at the Mahila Shakti Kendra in Civil Station, Kakkanad, said that the video campaign starring Indrajith Sukumaran and Poornima Indirajith on body shaming was popular. “But when we put the responses together, most of the positive ones came from women. Men were slightly sceptical about the campaign and some even said they disliked the messages,” added the official.
CLUELESS AND SCARED TO DEATH
Rima (name changed), a single woman in her mid-20s is still in shock thinking about her abortion experience. “The doctor did not care much and seemed as if she had something against the whole situation. The whole thing was so mechanical from their side. The way those nursing staff look at you and treat you makes you feel like hell. I could only remember being scared with no one to help.
Also, the doctor did not explain what they were going to do. I asked her at least three times about what they were going to do with me, how long would it take and the dosage. She said nothing other than ‘we will see’. It is like living your life in fear or with guilt for doing something you are sure is right for you and the people around you,” Rima says.
While a few women complained that the doctors did not explain the abortion procedure to them, Dr Vinitha Wills of Pushpagiri Medical College Hospital, Tiruvalla, said that ample explanations were given to every patient before the procedure.
“We, as part of the hospital policy, do not support abortions unless it is a medical emergency. With technological advances, now, the patient is advised to take medicines and wait for 14 days to ensure that all procedure waste is expelled. If it remains, the woman will have to undergo a surgical procedure for 10 minutes,” she added.