Editor’s Note: This month, that is November 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Sexual And Reproductive Health, where we invite various articles to highlight how health outcomes are determined with respect to a person’s social, political, economic and cultural contexts of their gender and sexuality, and how these identities shape their life experiences vis-a-vis SRHR in India. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November is a heart-warming month. It is my birthday month. Birth of a third child; a girl child; and a unique case of an unwanted child. In hindsight, it comes as no surprise that my field of work is family planning and sexual and reproductive health (SRH), a Freudian Justice, I say. But I am not the only one as there are 21 million girls in India who are unwanted or 210 lakh girls who, despite all odds, have survived. And then there were those girls, who did not see the light of day, as regressive socio-cultural nefarious mindsets got to them before god could.
There are also gradations in misery due to intersectionality. I see how girls and women are worst affected by the lack of family planning and reproductive health services, including the uterus and eco-friendly menstrual products. The well-established reasons are low socioeconomic status, illiteracy, low workforce participation, and add to that the burden of procreation. The underpinnings to a significant degree remain—patriarchy and son preference, regressive religious interpretation, and coercive policies. What separates me from having this fate is merely an accident of birth in a different social location.
Among many other valuable things that I have learned from the field of family planning (FP) and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is the importance of agency and choice vis-a-vis your own body. The choice of contraception and the availability thereof is a crucial exchange between the beneficiaries and the providers. The government understands and supports global researches which show how, adding one additional choice of contraception results in an increase of the overall uptake of contraceptives by 4-8 percentage points.
Is that not key to giving women the agency they constitutionally deserve?
Enough about women.
November is also a unique month because it is all about men. From fads like No Nut November and No Shave November to sophisticated observances like World Vasectomy Day. And the best of all—International Men’s Day, of which ironically most men are not even aware! But the holistic range from Children’s Day to Vasectomy to Ending Gender-Based Violence is something to ponder upon, from an SRH lens. Isn’t it?
Where are the men in the entire picture of FP-SRH? I am asking you, seriously, where are they?
Where are they in the uptake of contraception?
Where are they in rearing children?
Where are they in reducing gender-inequities in their relations? Where are they behaving like equals to their womenfolk?
Can we please stop treating our men like fragile babies and invite them on stage to share their responsibilities? Believe me, you, me, they can, and many of them want to, but we all have collectively conditioned them not to. Why? Does our society think men are so weak that they can only manage to slog, hog, and cum? Why are not men and boys showing that THEY CAN do everything which supports their womenfolk?
- Vasectomy, a painless procedure, takes 10 minutes, and yet 75% of women get tubectomy operations as opposed to just 0.03% of men.
- Men do not bleed. They do not suffer from dysmenorrhea or Polycystic Ovary Disorder – Nada. Zilch.
- They do not even get called “Mad Bitch” due to hormonal upheavals.
- They don’t even have to fast on Karwachauth or Ahoi Ashtami.
- They do not have to cook or clean as modern slavery.
- They are significantly stronger than women in strength, yet women walk miles carrying water.
Counterintuitively, men also have higher mortality. So, let them use their time and strength before they die, encourage them, dear society. These men are not mere spectators, from the agricultural fields to the Rashtrapati Bhawan; it is all a man’s world. And yet, they are scared. Menfolk do not know how we will treat them if they do partake, and not merely as tokenism.
We need to create a conducive environment, start conversations, create awareness, train experts to be more human, coax and cajole them, compensate them, and once they are comfortable, let them fly.
Maybe then, they will realise that investments towards the girl child will profit them manifolds later on life. Maybe then we will see a partisan and space to bring gender-sensitive policies. Talk to the Betis and understand their needs. Not pass Bills on our bodies, nor trample our rights, or trivialise our very existence. Maybe then, they will gain enough security in their manhood that they will also same-sex marriages.
So, let this November be all about love, hope and Men.
Purnima Khandelwal is a family planning and SRHR advocate based in New Delhi. She has over four years of experience in public policy and expertise in parliamentary and legislative research. Currently, she is a YKA-Action Network Menstrual Health Fellow, running her campaign ‘Plastic Free Period’ to create awareness on the harmful ingredients used in commercial sanitary napkins. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Lady Shri Ram College for Women and a Master’s degree in Public Policy from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.