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To continue our celebratory series of Restless Women ahead of International Women’s Day, Sahana is leading change as a Youth Accountability Advocate in India. Whislt studying her masters degree in social work from the University of Delhi, she is working on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

I am a young person living in a country with peak youth. Since I was a child I have experienced gender discrimination in my own community, from the choice of toys I was allowed to play with as a girl to the decision of who will be my life partner. The patriarchal structural complex has not only annoyed me but made me fight for gender equality my whole life.

There isn’t one particular woman who has inspired me, however the feeling of standing up to take action over our lives and to fight for equality, comes from every woman in one way or another.

Sahana collecting data during an interview

Recently, whilst working in the field to mobilise people about female discrimination, I met a young woman who had just left an abusive relationship. Without a father present, the only income to support the family now comes from her brother, who has embedded patriarchal beliefs that he is the only one who can support them. This woman, fighting for her rights, along with many others, inspires me to work towards ending gender discrimination.

I live in Badarpur, a region in Delhi which is mostly populated by the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar migrant families. My family heritage is Uttar Pradesh, I am from a Muslim middle-class background and a community that tend to limit girls freedoms and opportunities. Fortunately for me, my parents were flexible and adaptable to change.

Field work

I was very excited to get selected as a Youth Accountability Advocate by Restless Development as it is the first time that I have been able to work on gender discrimination, something I have wanted to do since childhood.  

I choose to work on Sustainable Development Goal 5, which works towards Gender equality, but my focus area changed when I began the field work for my research.

In the early stages of my field visits, I noticed a serious lack of medical facilities. By analysing the knowledge, attitudes and practises of everyone from the young people in communities to staff members of the medical facilities, I became aware of the needs of young people when it comes to their sexual and health rights.

Working with women in the community to understand the problems they face

Working on the topic of SRHR with communities was challenging. I had never worked with a grass roots organisation that trusted young people to work on their own issues.

The results of my research found that young people do not have access to information about their Sexual Health and Reproductive rights, HIV, STD’s and contraception because they do not have local medical facilities. Lack of facilities mean they do not have access to treatment, knowledge or availability of resources and counselling.

The area I worked in did not have a Primary Health Care centre for a population of  59,000 people, so this is something that I and the other changemakers wanted to change. In India, we have a three-tier structure of health services, with objectives of bringing health care within the reach of people in both rural and urban areas.

Only one side of the community I worked in had access to a doctor. My research found that in some situations within the other half of the community, people were losing their lives. In one of my case studies, a mother died during childbirth because she had to travel to a different state and received treatment too late.

Group discussion on the issues women face in their community around their health

According to the Economic Survey of Delhi 2017-18, there has been a decline in number of health care infrastructure. Maternity homes and sub-centres saw a dip from 284 to 193 between 2007 and 2016 and the number of primary health centres has remained stagnant at 8, Despite the fact that the state’s population has been increasing at the rate of 10 per cent every five years.

The biggest challenge I faced when working with my community was changing people’s traditional beliefs. Many felt too ashamed when I tried to discuss the topic of sexual health and it was difficult to get interviews.

Carrying out this work as a girl was a barrier in itself. it was difficult to be taken seriously as many people in the community still look at young girls as needing protection and support.

As girls, we are still having to prove ourselves and make the world realise our potential!

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