Bihar NGOs mount Khud se Pooche for healthcare with dignity

Social stigma stops Indian women from talking of their health


October 13, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Bihar NGOs mount Khud se Pooche for healthcare with dignity

To raise awareness around women’s healthcare in society, a group of women launched Khud se Pooche (Ask yourself) campaign in the capital of Bihar (Photo: Khud se Pooche)

Lack of confidence, combined numerous taboos and stigmas prevalent in India, makes women and girls in India hesitant and reluctant to talk about their health, even when they need urgent medical attention. This creates an unsafe space for them. A group of NGOs in the eastern state of Bihar is trying to address the problem and create awareness about the importance of discussing health issues and seeking medical attention when needed.

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A survey published earlier this year says that Indian women hesitate to bring up their health problems due to social stigma and taboos. The survey, Indian Women’s Health Report 2021, conducted market research firm Ipsos for Emcure Pharmaceuticals, says that about 50 pc of the surveyed women between 25-55 years of age were not comfortable talking about their health issues to avoid social stigma. The report found that common health issues like PCOS, breast cancer and endometriosis were still considered taboo.

Though the survey quantified the extent of the problem, some NGOs had already been working on the issue of making women speak up about their health problems, including the so-called taboos. Last September, Purpose, a Patna-based NGO, that was primarily working in children’s issues, got into the act.

To raise awareness around women’s healthcare in society, it launched Khud se Pooche (Ask yourself) campaign in the capital of Bihar, the second most populous and one of the least developed states in the country. The campaign covers a wide variety of ‘taboo’ issues including  sexual health, reproductive health, menstruation, access to contraception and abortions and focuses on women in the age group of 18 to above 30 years. It aims to provide proper dignified healthcare facilities and to make women as well as their families aware of all health-related issues.

Even though, through social media, many people have started to talk about various illnesses, their causes and remedies, many more remain hesitant to discuss their health problems even in their families, let alone on the social media. Interestingly, even educated and working women are equally shy of discussing their health problems as the Ipsos survey covered working women.

“While interacting with students I noticed that even they hesitate to share their health-related issues in front of others. The main reason behind their hesitation is their fear that they will be judged, and they have to face social stigma if they open up about their health issues in front of others,” Priyaswara Bharti, founder of Bihar Youth for Child Rights, a Patna-based activist group, tells Media India Group.

Bharti says she has managed almost 120 healthcare awareness campaigns in last two months, all aimed at removing the taboo and other challenges women face in discussing their health problems with others. “Even if some student tries to speak up, she usually only talks about menstruation problem. The girls don’t realise that there are many more issues besides this. As a result, often they are left to deal with their health problems at home without any medical treatment. I wanted to connect with students because if they became aware of these issues and got the right treatment, it would help many more people around these girls and also bring about a major change in the society,” says Bharti.

Khud se Pooche has been developed by organisations such as Sakhi, Gaurav Gramin Mahila Vikas Manch and Bihar Youth for Child Rights in collaboration with Population Foundation of India as well as Lions Club Patna and Centre for Catalyzing Change in the eastern state of Bihar, one of the most populous and underdeveloped states of India.

Reaching out to girl child

“We are trying to create proper healthcare awareness in every corner of Patna and so far we have engaged with more than 10,000 women. We grab everyone’s attention through playing drama’s related to health issues like the problems faced by women during or after a sexual act, as well as the difference between bad touch and good touch, how irregular menstruation causes problem and many more,” says Kajal Kumari, community manager of the NGO, Purpose.

The NGOs are aware that broad as their campaigns may be, there remain many more women in rural and urban slum areas who are not aware of their health issues and in most cases they just ignore the problems, instead of discussing with people around them. “The biggest problem we face while connecting to women in rural areas and slums in urban areas is that many were not even aware of several healthcare problems. While we try to make them understand about sexual and reproductive health care and how important is to have a major role in family planning, how breast cancer happens and how it will affect them,” Kumari tells Media India group.

Change through awareness campaign

To raise awareness, Khud se Pooche campaign also motivates many youngsters to be part of this campaign by making them “ambassadors” who are trained by experts on different issues and after the training they are awarded a certificate.

“Many women and students want to share their problem to us as individuals and also seek help through social media whenever they feel uncomfortable or face any problem,” says Bharti, adding that in many cases, during PCOS girl go through problems like irregular periods, hair loss and weight gain, but they and their parents remain unaware of the problem and keep on questioning and blaming the girl herself, affecting her mental health which can lead to depression.

The campaign also provides advice by medical experts and solution to the problems being faced by them and that too without judging them women or discriminating against anyone.

Priyaswara Bharti interacting with students (Photo: Khud se Pooche)

Anonymous visual and performance artist Princess Pea, who is based in Gurugram near New Delhi, has joined hands with Khud Se Pooche to help create broader awareness about healthcare with dignity by organising a series of art-based workshops for the ‘ambassadors’ of the campaign to enable them to tell their stories and define their own narrative of ‘dignified healthcare.’

The artist will also help women learn how to use textiles, embroidery, and patch-work to co-create a symbol representing ‘dignity in healthcare’. The symbol will then form a site-specific art installation to be displayed in Patna. The activists welcome her contribution to the effort. “Princess Pea helps us and provides a self-realisation solution to women’s heath related issue, along with importance of sex education. She also tries to boost the confidence of people to open up and talk about what they feel and their problems,” says Kumari.

“We have seen a lot of improvement after our campaign and we see many more people coming forward and start to engage with us and share their stories. Other than this, many have also started communicating, exploring and learning to discuss their health issues with others,” says Kumari.

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