Meet the young lawyer fighting for better sexual & reproductive health services in India

The yearly United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) is already upon us. The moment every young leader looks forward to. This year, I will be representing Youth Power at the summit.

Ah! to get an opportunity to advocate for young people outside the four walls of a law court. This really is redefining the scope of work of a young lawyer like me. The United Nations looked like a fancy organisation I only read about when I was a political science student. The complex structure was so hard to imagine through textbooks and other mediums of information. Knowing that I’ll be able to see how to UN works in reality gives me immense pleasure. I get goosebumps thinking about it!

I belong to a progressive family, but at home – being the youngest among my siblings – no-one considered my opinion important.

Will I ever be heard? This situation seemed quite bleak.

After I finished school where I graduated in Political Science (Hons), I worked in the courts for about an year, then I started volunteering. While I was in the courts a realization sinked into me. The court judegments and rulings, though they play a significant role in reprimanding crime in a state and maintain law and order in the society, have limited influence on  transforming or changing people’s mindset.

Me leading a community workshop on sexual health

Court rule becomes the law of the land but does not eliminate the customary or age old practices of inequality.  Not many people are aware of the law, which lays down a violation or positive assertion in the best interest of justice. Time and time again, Legal advocacy has helped to amend policies and provide relief to the individual approaching the court. However for policy change to be reflected in the community is a matter of development, which is a slow and steady process and can only be achieved by having an inclusive model of awareness for these policies.

In 2015 I first volunteered with Robin Hood Army for food distribution drives in the slums and the suburbs in cities. Afterwards I volunteered on ICS (International Citizenship Service), to Maharashtra, a state in the Western Range of India, and worked on livelihood project.  Through this I heard about Restless Development and the spiral of volunteering and social movements became the driving force of my life.

However, while volunteering I was daunted by one thought: if my contribution is bound to these limited spaces, will my high spirit reach the masses of political forum and global platforms?

“Advocacy is often limited to those who are older. Young people, despite being over 1.8 billion people worldwide, are often not involved in advocacy and decision-making.”

I see this upcoming opportunity at UNGA as a chance to advocate for the role of young minds in policy advocacy of sexual reproductive health and  rights. Talking about this invites hesitation and awkwardness – from high level political summits to the most unaware family members.

Using a mobile phone to collect data in the community

“At UNGA I will focus on how access to services and information on sexual and reproductive health for each young person – whether married or unmarried – plays a crucial role in the development, both of a family and of a nation.”

Intimacy is very natural in everyone’s life, in all shapes and forms.  In the same way maths, science or geography is taught in schools, I want young people to be able to open up a discussion about these issues. They should be able to talk about sexual and reproductive health as openly as they might talk about any other subject – to their friends, relatives, doctors and consultants. This sharing of information from trusted sources will help in breaking down the stereotypes about various contraceptives, reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and meet family planning needs.  

The other aspect of my advocacy work is enabling  access to contraceptives. But the grim reality is that the primary health centres or pharmaceuticals are not youth friendly. In practice, young people find accessing contraceptive from these places  so intimidating that the young people – especially those who are unmarried – prefer not to step foot inside a clinic.

Teaching sessions on health and rights in a school

This situation becomes even more complex when it comes to suburban or rural settings.  Gender inequality and misconceptions about masculinity and pleasure make talking about sexual health even more difficult. National policies place the responsibility of family planning on women. But often they have much less influence in taking the decision of using a contraceptive.

“In some cases, such as early child marriage, young girls are not even aware of what repercussions of unprotected sex are.  Even when a woman has so many options available free of cost at government-run health facilities, she is not free to take decisions regarding her own body.”

Her in-laws and husband generally drive her sexual activities and number of children she has. The background of patriarchy rumbles on in the background. Often it affects men too as they also lack access to contraceptives and to health clinics. This situation should alarm service providers and policy-makers alike.

Speaking to a woman in the village about family planning

The role of young people in bridging this gap between policy-makers, service providers as well service users, is imperative. A young person who is 18 years old today and 30 years old tomorrow in 2030, embodies what the SDGs represent. This makes it even more important significant to have an inclusive model of development and address the issues of the growing generations.

The power of young people is best summed up by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres.

“Young People are exactly my hope… they understand diversity is a richness; it’s not a threat” –

Our government is developing initiatives to meet the unmet needs of family planning and to combat child hunger and malnutrition. The model of Anganwadi, a type of ‘ courtyard shelter’ was developed by the Indian government as part of the Integrated Child Development system in 1957. This is the child health care center and the first point of contact for the community to address their sexual, reproductive and health issues of mother and child. Social health activists are community health workers established by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare(MoHFW) as a part of the National Rural Health Mission(NRHM).

There are other positive initiatives, like the newly launched inject-able contraceptive Tarang. It lasts for three months and requires less care daily than oral pills. The community too is showing wide acceptance of this method of contraceptive.  However, despite these initiatives there is a lot of scope for improvement towards training medical personnel and ensuring abortions are youth-friendly.

With other young people in my community

This opportunity to go to the UN fills me with excitement and nerves at the same time. My dedication and hard work as a young person towards sustainable development goals are staged on a platform which is known by all and applauded by many more. I hope to learn more about the diversity and similarity of  problems that young people face from those I meet at UNGA.

“I hope that UNGA can help my own personal development. I hope I am able to speak out for young people and learn how our voices can drive the realisation of the 2030 agenda!”

Aparna is a 25 year old Youth Accountability Advocate working with Restless Development in Delhi, India. Aparna’s accountability work focuses on working towards a youth-friendly environment that increases access to information about sexual and reproductive health and rights, with a particular focus on gender equality.


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Meet the young lawyer fighting for better sexual & reproductive health services in India

by wearerestless Reading time: 5 min