The Delhi Medical Council in a letter has stated that it will be committed to providing safe and Non-judgemental sexual health services to unmarried women in New Delhi. The statement has come as a result of a campaign led by unmarried women across Delhi, spearheaded by a campaigning non-profit Haiyya, to hold service providers accountable to stigma-free sexual and reproductive health services.
“We acknowledge the responsibility of ensuring quality and friendly services to every individual lies on doctors, hospital chains and medical bodies. No woman should be denied or receive sub par services due to their identities such as marital status, caste, religion etc. As the President of the Delhi Medical Council, I commit that we believe in ensuring safe and non-judgemental services to all unmarried women in the city and encourage them to avail sexual and reproductive health services as per their needs,” said Dr. Arun Gupta, President, Delhi Medical Council. He added that the DMC stands in solidarity with the campaign and will take the steps in their jurisdiction duty to create a safe environment for all women. The DMC has invited the doctor fraternity to join them in making spaces safer and accessible to unmarried women.
The campaign began in 2017 as an initiative to end the shame and stigma around young unmarried women’s sexual health and choices, and to bridge the gap that persists between unmarried women and sexual health providers. Natasha Chaudhary, Co-director, Haiyya, said, “It all started 2 years ago, when one of our colleagues had to undergo an abortion. It was a traumatic and harrowing experience she went through at the clinic, where her dignity was shamed and destroyed. Following that event, we found ourselves sharing personal stories with each other that we had never shared before. We all had approached our sexual health from a place of fear, and we could not hold service providers accountable, with no bargaining power as a community. This issue has persisted because power lies with age-old institutions where women are disengaged from decision-making processes that affect their very own lives. We needed to flip this by organising unmarried women as a collective and moving the onus and accountability on medical institutions.”
To legitimise the unseen issue, the unmarried women across New Delhi conducted a one-of-a-kind survey in New Delhi with over 750+ unmarried women, to understand their challenges when accessing sexual health services. The findings of the survey revealed that as low as 1% of women said they had received information pertaining to sexual and reproductive health and rights from their mothers, doctors or government campaigns. 53% of these women felt unsure if the sexual health problems they were facing were severe enough to visit a gynaecologist. The findings of the survey are published in the ‘Health Over Stigma’ campaign report by Haiyya.
“We formed a core committee for the campaign with unmarried women and allies, and other organisations working in the sexual and reproductive health rights space,” said Sreejani, campaign lead, Haiyya. A few months ago, the campaign leaders from Haiyya and Sachhi Saheli, a partner organisation reached out to the Delhi Medical Council, lodging a complaint letter to put forward the issue, bring the urgency to their notice and to accept the demands as a code of conduct to be implemented across Delhi to be followed by all doctors.
“Now the campaign is focused on getting other bodies on board by shifting the onus from unmarried women to medical service providers, including public health bodies and associations like the State Health Ministry, Delhi Medical Association, FOGSI and private hospital chains like Medanta, Fortis, to stand in solidarity with the campaign by accepting the code of conduct,” Sreejani added.
The campaign has also started to gain momentum online, as unmarried women have started sharing on social media platforms their stories of stigma and discrimination that they face at the gynaecologist. The campaign is also working with Bangalore-based non-profit Jhatkaa on an online petition demanding non-judgemental services.
Find the full report and fact sheet here → Health Over Stigma Campaign report