On May 2, the global audience was left appalled when a US media outlet published a leaked draft opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), revealing its supposed intention to overturn a landmark Roe v Wade judgment which essentially grants the rights to abortion for a woman.
While several world leaders expressed alarm at the turn of events in the US, Spain rushed to approve a draft bill in its own country for expanding abortion rights to teenagers. With the move, Spain was also set to become the first country in Europe to allow paid menstrual leave to women.
Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez announced that the proposal represented “a new step forward for women, a new step forward for democracy.”
Here in India, the Supreme Court recognises women’s reproductive rights under Right to Health and states that it is an aspect of Personal Liberty under Article 21.
The Top Court defines such rights to include the right to “access a range of reproductive health information, goods, facilities and services to enable individuals to make informed, free, and responsible decisions about their reproductive behaviour.”
The MTP Act, which got amended in 2021 also allowed unmarried women to seek safe abortion facilities on grounds of contraceptive failures. Although ironically, critics have pointed out that the amended law still gives the final say on abortion to doctors.
Another major stumbling block that deters Indian women access to abortion and rights to reproductive health is the absence of gender sensitisation among doctors and health practitioners.
This is particularly reflected in our home state where the usual treatment for a woman seeking treatment for menstrual complications as per the doctors, nurses and health practitioners is marriage.
Putting marriage as a first-line treatment for women’s menstrual disorders comes as a form of discrimination as they are shut off from other available options and cure by health practitioners.
Such forms of practices are not in line with the Supreme Court verdict to provide access to a range of reproductive health information or services to women.
Married women are further denied from making their own decisions concerning their reproductive health and persuaded into bearing children by health practitioners as treatment for their reproductive health issues.
These attitudes by medical practitioners seem to stem from a biased view of women’s role in society and having strong beliefs in gender stereotypes such as women should be homemakers and child bearers.
According to WHO, gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls, and boys that are socially constructed. It stated that as a social construct, gender varies from society to society, and can change over time.
The expectations of society for a woman to be a child bearer and nurturer first before considering her other roles arise from gender stereotyping and this can be altered through gender sensitisation.
In a welcome move, Maharashtra became the first state in the country to announce gender sensitisation in medical education in 2018, and many of their colleges are working on implementing it.
As per reports, medical colleges from other states are also organising workshops with CEHAT which has introduced 81 gender integrated lectures to be taught across 5.5 years of MBBS curriculum to impart gender sensitisation.
The sole purpose of integrating gender sensitivity into medicine is to ensure that women as well as other genders are given access to proper healthcare. Otherwise, the diagnosis as well as the treatment of women’s health issues is often influenced by outdated views concerning their roles in society.
It would do great if such classes on gender sensitisation are also organised in our home state. Otherwise, doctors here would continue coming out and publicly make outlandish claims such as Manipuri women should pause their careers and marry before they turn 30 in order to save ‘Kangleipak’.
Society can be saved by well informed and educated citizens who are well aware of their rights and also respect other genders’ rights besides their own.
Progress can be made by granting women her rights enshrined in the Constitution, and she should be freed from gender stereotypes.
A woman should be allowed to make independent choices concerning her reproductive health as the Supreme Court had observed that “the freedom to exercise these reproductive rights would include the right to make a choice regarding sterilization on the basis of informed consent and free from any form of coercion.”