Mrinalini Urges Women To Talk About Sexual Health #HealthOverStigma
We rarely see a 25 year old filled with so much enthusiasm as Mrinalini Dayal, a Delhiite. She feels personally responsible for playing an active role in the process of social change in the young and booming India. She has been working at Haiyya as the Campaign and Communications Lead for a while now and is currently leading the campaign called Health Over Stigma. Mrinalini is equipped with BA Hons in International Relations & History from the University of Toronto.
“I would like to share something that was shared with me when I was a child—something that is still etched in my memory today: Question everything around you because you have a say in everything. Every book you read, every movie you watch, the behavior of every person you meet (including your own)—just question everything and evaluate how it affects you and the people around you. The infamous Nirbhaya rape case of 2013 sparked a massive public outcry, with thousands of people taking to the streets to protest against the abysmal condition of women’s safety in India. However, with the passage of time, all the anger, anguish and resentment directed towards the government vis-à-vis this issue, fizzled out. The concept of Haiyya came about as a reaction to the 2013 Nirbhaya rape case. Haiyya upholds the principle of Transparent Democracy, which means, allowing well-informed citizens of a democracy to have a say in directing and controlling their government. Haiyya is an effort to view social change from the society’s standpoint. It provides citizens with a platform to bring about a change in society. The organisation seeks to achieve this through leadership capacity building and by creating a culture of engaged citizens. They believe that when change is administered by the people, for the people, it is more sustainable and impactful. Some of Haiyya’s prominent campaigns have been centered around Urban City Pollution, Women’s Access to Public Spaces and Unmarried Women’s Sexual Health Awareness. Just four months ago, when four unmarried women were sitting and brainstorming at Haiyya, when the topic of sexual health and the stigma associated with it, came up. After interacting with several women, we realised how pervasive and grave the situation was and how it demands immediate action. We learnt about the virtually non-existent sex education at our schools, universities and households at the grassroots level. We also gained useful insights into the shame surrounding female sexuality in India. Nobody, whether it is teachers, parents, doctors or even the Health Ministry, considers unmarried women’s sexual health an issue worth talking about. By turning a blind eye to this issue, they are endangering women in more ways than one.”
“When something to do with sexual health happens, the first emotion that a woman feels is fear. This fear manifests itself in different forms: hesitance to consult a gynaecologist, concealing one’s problems from one’s family or sometimes even relying on unreliable home remedies to tackle these problems. In the meanwhile, health service providers use the stigma surrounding sexual health to their advantage by indulging in illegal and unethical practices. This puts women in grave danger, not just in terms of health but also by curbing their freedom to access health services, thus jeopardising their well-being in general. Unmarried women’s sexual health may not be a priority for a lot of people, but it is a priority for us at Haiyya. Through Health Over Stigma, we seek to create awareness and take physical action by making service providers accountable. Girls deserve a broad-minded upbringing wherein their parents encourage them to go for regular sexual health check-ups. We envision a society wherein women can take decisions independently and where the emotions associated with sexual health transform from fear and shame to confidence.”
“After having interacted with different groups of women, I have come to realise that every group essentially shares the same stories and experiences. Furthermore, all these women primarily feel ashamed and hesitant while discussing their issues and experiences surrounding their own bodies and sexual health. This means that women, as a gender, are subject to the same stigma when it comes to sexual health. We at Haiyya, seek to destigmatize this issue and bring about a change in how women themselves and the society in general, view the issue of sexual health. It had always been my dream to work in the social development sector. The reason why I took on the key responsibility to head the Health Over Stigma campaign is because I felt the dire need to destigmatize the issue of unmarried women’s sexual health in India.”
“The biggest challenge for us has been the nature of the problem at hand—it is not acknowledged as a problem by anyone. In layman’s terms, the issue of unmarried women’s sexual health is not considered a problem and that is the biggest problem that we face, as advocators of change. On one hand, women feel too ashamed to speak about it and are hesitant about consulting a gynaecologist until something serious happens. Institutions like schools and universities don’t impart proper sex education. Mothers don’t encourage daughters to go for period sexual health check-ups. On the other hand, doctors indulge in illegal and unethical practices, banking on the stigma surrounding the issue. Health Over Stigma is envisioned as a long-term campaign. As of today, we have received funding for one year, but we see this campaign running for over two years as per our current estimates. The primary goal of this campaign is not just limited to creating awareness and destigmatizing the issue at hand. Over time, through joint efforts, we seek to provide women with actual physical access to sexual health service providers.