The time is now to resolve women issuesby Opinion Express July 29, 2019 0 comments
The lack of education leaves adolescent women ill-equipped to negotiate the right age to marry, the number of children to birth and access to contraceptives and safe abortions. This, in turn, is holding the nation back, say Nikita Khanna and Sumit Pawar
At a time when children should be making their way to schools and colleges to learn about the boundless opportunities that exist, many of them are helmed in by the bond of marriage. Often they are married at an age when they are too young to even understand the responsibility and the gravity of what it entails.
Despite child marriage being banned, India still has the highest absolute number of child brides in the world — over 15.5 million. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16, around 27 per cent of the women in the 20-24 age group were married before the legal age of 18. Approximately 4,523,524 women between 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. Data also revealed that only 10 per cent of currently married adolescent females (15-19 years) and 16 per cent of sexually active unmarried adolescent females use any modern method of contraception.
Early marriage hinders women from acquiring the requisite skills that they need to join the workforce. The lack of agency in deciding when and whom to marry, how many children to have and when, accessing contraceptives and safe abortions, are hollowing out the nation.
Another issue that plagues young lives is the taboo and shame associated with sex. An almost-institutionalised culture of shame makes it difficult for youngsters to seek proper knowledge about contraceptives or even talking about it openly. Often, healthcare providers are not equipped to discuss adolescent issues openly and on the other hand youngster have a fear of being judged. It is, therefore, crucial that healthcare workers, educators and counsellors are given proper training about the same. Formal engagement of master trainers must be ensured to equip healthcare workers with comprehensive information on all six thematic areas — nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, injuries and violence (including gender-based violence), non-communicable diseases, substance misuse and mental health under the government’s Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK).
To combat the general lack of awareness about safe spaces like adolescent-friendly health clinics (AFHCs), the District Community Mobiliser should undertake awareness drives regarding the entitlements and services under the RKSK programme. It is equally important to engage the Panchayati Raj Institutions to prioritise adolescent health at village level.
The taboo and intolerance around the LGBTQ community is yet another reason for cases of gender-based violence, often erupting within the family and community. Public spaces in India are largely unsafe for members of the community. Apart from ignorance on the gender spectrum, youth often bears the brunt of issues of caste, race, colour and class, when it comes to choosing a life partner or in the matters of love, leading to crimes and honour killings. Most importantly, there are no social accountability mechanisms to ensure the delivery of quality adolescent health services.
It is important that block, district and state planning and monitoring committees are leveraged to strengthen the delivery of adolescent health services across the country.
The stage is set for the new government to prioritise the sexual and reproductive health of the young population. The youth are an important constituency and failure to intervene on this front could mean this potential of demographic dividend may turn into a demographic disaster.
Policy makers must focus on a voluntary, rights and choice-based approach for addressing sexual and reproductive health needs of young people. India has the largest youth population in the world. The government needs to do more for them so that the much-deliberated ‘demographic dividend’, which has become an integral part of socio-economic discourse in India can be reaped or else we will miss the bus. The time to act is now.
Writer: Sumit Pawar/Nikita Khanna
Courtesy: The Pioneer