Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Breaking the Culture of Silence

A sixteen year old unmarried girl from a slum in Indore city in Madhya Pradesh was recently taken to a quack doctor for an abortion when she was five months pregnant. The quack gave her some potion to drink and also pressed her lower abdomen with his hands continuously and aborted the foetus. Later on after coming home she began bleeding profusely and had to be rushed to a government hospital where the doctors removed her uterus and saved her. This horrendous incident on analysis brings out the following serious obstacles that prevent poor urban women from successfully addressing their reproductive health problems -
A taboo on discussing reproductive health problems in general unless matters go out of control.
A taboo on discussing sexuality issues with adolescents leading to unwanted pregnancies among unmarried girls.
The lack of access to cheap and certified reproductive health treatment.
This situation is not unique to Indore as reproductive health, especially gynaecological health, of poor women in India is generally very bad. Even though poor women in urban areas do have a lesser work burden in terms of physical labour as compared to the rural women they are nevertheless handicapped by having to live in very cramped and dirty surroundings in slums and suffer from the effects of patriarchy in the same way as rural women. This creates serious reproductive health problems for them. Government health services are mostly not accessible to these women and they have to rely on private doctors whose fees and treatment for reproductive health problems are more expensive than in rural areas and in most cases not of good quality. So urban women suffer from various reproductive health problems and are anaemic. In most cases the women are not able to articulate these problems due to their lower status in society. Reproductive health problems lead to both economic loss through inability to work and mental stress due to illness for women and being a neglected area, need to be urgently addressed to ensure gender equity.
Current thinking among feminists broadly defines the discipline of reproductive and sexual health as the social and clinical study of those problems and diseases that arise from the social asymmetries influencing human sexuality and reproduction. Specifically, a reproductive health approach has been defined as that which enables women, including adolescents, everywhere to regulate their own fertility safely and effectively by conceiving when they desire, terminating unwanted pregnancies and carrying wanted pregnancies to term; to remain free of disease, disability or death associated with reproduction or sexuality and to bear and raise healthy children.  In reality, however, this ideal state of affairs does not prevail anywhere in the world and especially in India most women have to suffer from serious reproductive and sexual health problems. Feminist sociology has pinpointed the dominance of men in society as the prime reason for the lack of gender equity and termed this phenomenon as patriarchy. Analysing all the main institutions of society like the family, marriage, kinship groups, media, religious hierarchies and the state, they have shown that all these play a role in maintaining the overall patriarchal structure of society. Over thousands of years this structure has become so well entrenched that to most people including women it seems quite natural instead of being the inequitous social construct that it actually is. Therefore, gender equity cannot be achieved without the removal of patriarchy.

As a result traditionally women have had to work more, they have been denied the right to inheritance of property, they have had to assume total responsibility for house work and the care of children and the elderly and this work is not counted as of being of any economic value, they have had to go underfed and have been subjected to domestic and external violence of the worst kind. As a consequence of this secondary status women have to bear more babies to ensure that there are male progeny who will inherit the property and provide security in old age. Along with this there is social control over the sexuality of women so that men can be assured that the children born to their wives are truly theirs and so ensure the purity of their descent. Naturally all this affects the overall health of women and especially their reproductive and sexual health. Since there is a taboo on the discussion of these issues women have to suffer their troubles in silence and this leads to mental problems. Thus there is a deafening culture of silence surrounding women's reproductive and sexual health problems. The biggest irony is that the menstrual cycle which is an integral part of the reproductive process is considered in the prevailing patriarchal system to be the cause of various negative things and has been given a dirty connotation in India. This affects the ability of women to maintain personal hygiene and results in their being afflicted by various diseases of the reproductive tract.
The first effective steps towards improving the status of women's reproductive health in India were taken by NGOs in the 1980s. The pioneer in this respect is the NGO SEARCH in Gadhchiroli district of Maharashtra. In the course of their work among the Gond indigenous people they found that all women were not reporting their gynaecological problems properly. So they decided to conduct a detailed study which has now become a landmark in this field. The study revealed that 55% of the women surveyed admitted to some gynaecological problem or other but when they were tested clinically this proportion rose to 92%. The most disturbing finding was that only 8% of these women had come to the NGO for treatment of their problems indicating a tremendous level of reticence to confront their serious reproductive health problems. Many other studies later have confirmed these disturbing findings.
The decade of the nineteen nineties saw a concerted effort by feminists all over the world to improve this sorry state of affairs. The basis of this campaign was the establishment of the reproductive and sexual rights of women. According to this view there are four aspects of reproductive and sexual rights -
Bodily Integrity - All women have the right to protect their bodies and have control over them. Thus women cannot be deprived of their sexual and productive abilities by men or the state and they cannot be made to use these abilities according to the latter's whims and fancies.
Personhood - Women will take their own decisions regarding reproduction and sexual behaviour and nobody can interfere in this.
Equality - Women are equal to men in all respects and so the gender division of labour under which women have been given the work of exclusively tending the children and the elderly and also doing housework has to be abolished and men should also take up these responsibilities. Apart from this women's health issues should be better addressed on par with those of men.
Diversity - The differences arising from difference in values, culture, religion, class, nationality and the like should be respected.
The International Conference on Population and Development organised by the United Nations in Cairo in 1994 and the World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 finally led to the adoption of this feminist viewpoint and an appeal was made to all governments to tailor their women's health programmes to meet these parameters. Unfortunately in India this has largely not materialised and women are still perceived as baby producing machines engaged in care giving and domestic unpaid work.
The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti has begun a programme of reproductive and sexual health and rights in Indore to break the culture of silence and strike against patriarchy that incorporates the principles of reproductive health and rights as shown in the following graphic -
 The programme has been very successful so far and a model for reproductive health and rights work has been developed that can be replicated elsewhere.

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