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India’s Republic Day on January 26th marks the date when the country’s Constitution came into effect in 1950. The supreme law document lays out a list of fundamental rights, principles and duties for its citizens. But beyond the Constitution, there are basic human rights that women across the nation’s geography and demographics, continue to fight for on a day-to-day basis. Rights which are necessary for basic health and hygiene, but which can sometimes be hard to exercise due to deep-rooted patriarchy or obsolete societal standards. And we’re always rooting for such women’s rights.
In a world where equality is a fundamental right, gender inequality is the harsh truth. National and international leaders have stressed enough on the need to empower women for a healthy society. Awareness about and access to health and hygiene practices are unavoidable aspects to reach this goal. Be it clean sanitation facilities or sexual and reproductive choices, women’s rights need to encompass a whole lot.
For the urban Indian population, the idea of not having a toilet at home may be alien. But for most people in rural India, it’s the harsh truth. According to Unicef data from 2015, over 550 million people in the country had lack of access to toilets. In 2019, the numbers reduced marginally, but a whole lot of people still struggle to find safe and hygienic spaces to relieve themselves. The lack of toilets also increases the risk of diseases, besides exposing women to sexual harassment.
In its own light-hearted way, Bollywood film ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ tackled the heavy open defecation crisis that plagues the country. The film’s soft power pushed the hard message of the need for toilets in every home to avoid the health and hygiene hazards. And why just homes? The lack of clean toilets in schools also impacts the school dropout rate among girls. In workplaces, unhygienic toilets can hamper productivity and comfort for women. So, this is one of the most important women’s rights.
The World Health Organization considers menstruation a health issue with physical, psychological and social implications. Rightly so! From hitting puberty to menopause, there’s a lot that people who menstruate go through. Lack of access to menstrual hygiene products can increase the risk of infections like Urinary Tract Infections, use of unsafe objects like mud and synthetic cloth, and social consciousness.
Menstruation or periods are still spoken about in hush-hush tones even in the most ‘modern’ homes. In certain sections of the society, women are considered ‘impure’ during those days of the month and are subject to isolation. This mindset needs to undergo a 360 degree change, and women deserve the right to menstrual hygiene. While the market for period products has witnessed an upswing in India, access and awareness still remains a concern.
Also read: Let’s break the chain of taboos around menstruation through right awareness: Unicef WASH Specialist
Sexual pleasure is not one gender’s prerogative. It involves two individuals and both deserve the right to pleasure. For a long time, women have mostly been silent partners in sex. But it’s high time they assert their right to pleasure. A growing tribe of sexual health educators in the social media space are doing their bit to apprise women of pleasure and self-pleasure. Men also need to normalise if women express what they really like – or not like – in bed. Women must not feel ashamed or embarrassed to make their sexual desires known. The bottom-line is that they must not be shy to either express or experience sex as they want.
“No means no.” Bollywood film Pink made the point about a woman’s right to say ‘no’ quite well. Over the years, the discourse around consent has assumed greater significance in the country’s social fabric. Globally too, the #MeToo movement has drawn attention towards the importance of a woman’s consent in a physical relationship. Married or not, a woman is not bound to engage in sex. In fact, the country’s apex court is soon likely to address petitions which seek to criminalise marital rape. To indulge or not to indulge in sex is a matter of choice, and a woman must have it. Truly, forced sex needs to stop!
A woman’s right to reproductive choices simply translates that she can and must have the freedom to choose whether she wants to reproduce. A woman should also be able to choose if she wants to continue a pregnancy or abort. A woman deserves to be an active partner in planning a family or the method of contraception she would like to use. Women also deserve the right to being educated in order to make the correct reproductive choices which are conducive physically, mentally and financially. A woman who is aware of sexual health and hygiene practices can also protect herself from sexually transmitted infections.
These women’s rights are important for one’s physical and mental well-being!
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