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Khushboo Sharma

IWB Blogger

Haiyya’s Mrinalini Dayal On Shattering Stigmas Around Unmarried Women’s Sexual And Reproductive Health

  • IWB Post
  •  September 24, 2018

I wonder if there exists a taboo bigger than pre-marital sex in India. So revolting appears the entire idea in the country that we tend to shift everything under the rugs that even remotely connotes to it. With women’s sexual and reproductive health being the first sacrifice at the altar of repressive mindsets, there arises a need to address the topic more extensively than it has hitherto been addressed.

Haiyya is doing just that through active campaigning and cultivating new leadership. They run “grassroots campaigns on issues that need immediate political attention to build community power and challenge status quo within and outside communities.”

Their latest campaign ‘Health Over Stigma’ is striving for the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for unmarried women in the country. At Haiyya, they recognise how unmarried women have to face judgemental behavior from service providers at hospitals and clinics.

Thus, the goal of their current campaign is to create spaces for women where they can share stories through Haiyya’s network of community meetings. The goal also is to connect young women to non-judgemental doctors who commit to their standards.

The Leaders of Haiyya’s ‘Health Over Stigma’ campaign are young women themselves who understand that “the shame around premarital sex and female sexuality leads to a lack of information and safe spaces.”

We recently got in touch with Mrinalini Dayal from Haiyya and engaged in a detailed chat on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) for unmarried women, society’s judgemental attitudes, and the need of a revolution to put an end to the repressive culture pertaining to the topic.

During the interaction, she also talked about the importance of community in supporting women and empowering them. She said, “To support women, there is a pivotal role played by a community of women who are supporting each other and allies (whether partners, friends, feminist groups etc).”

Here are excerpts from our conversation: 

On national policies pertaining to women’s sexual and reproductive health

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog We need policies that recognize unmarried women’s sexual & reproductive health needs. This starts with an amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act to change ‘contraceptive failures of married women’ to all women.


Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Moreover as reproductive rights activists have argued the act needs to be updated to reflect the progress in technology and move beyond 20 weeks as the limit for a safe abortion. Overall we need to reevaluate the entire Act from a rights perspective.

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog It is a right to abortion that all women should have and not a service delivery or perk. Therefore the law needs to be created with women at the center. Currently we can access abortion if our situation falls under certain categories. Choice, consent and agency are not central.

On sexual education in the country and counseling 

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Sadly from the many interactions we’ve had with young women they didn’t have any, just an embarrassed biology teacher who asked them to read ‘that’ chapter at home by themselves. We need to start young and normalize relationships talk about bodies, consent and responsibility.


Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog To support women there is a pivotal role played by a community of women who are supporting each other and allies (whether partners, friends, feminist groups etc).

On the awareness of sexual and reproductive health and rights

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid Essentially rights for unmarried women are the same as for married women. There are a few things that are important to know – If you’re over 18 you don’t need anyone’s permission to seek a service (including abortion). Which also means you cannot be denied service.

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid In a similar light for sexual assault the idea is not to say ‘It’s women’s fault they don’t report’ but ask ‘How can we encourage more women to report?’ It’s not enough if we only focus on making women more aware.


On non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health services 

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid At @Haiyya_Act we have been running a grassroots campaign in Delhi called #HealthOverStigma through which unmarried women are fighting for access to non-judgemental Sexual & Reproductive Health Services. These women are #SRHRDefenders who are building a community of women

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid Doctors exist in society just as we do and succumb to the same patriarchal thoughts. They need to realize that there is movement here and this behaviour is unacceptable, recognize that they are providing us a service. It comes back to whether they want unmarried women to access

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid safe services or not. It is their responsibility to ensure that their clinic/hospital is accessible for us, if it’s not we will access an unsafe service. The onus of this lies on them not us. We have also witnessed a refusal of doctors to admitted that ‘moral policing’ happens.


Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid We have our Campaign website here anyone can also access our #VaginaDialogues Handbook, which is the foundation of hosting a Community meeting (it includes a quiz, potential games to play). We use these meetings to create this network of empowered women!


On Haiyya’s interaction with women 

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid We knew focusing on women’s awareness wasn’t enough & wanted this campaign to push a women to actually enter that clinic door (when needed). Therefore we canvassed around public markets in Delhi and interacted with over 500 women on what they’re afraid of at the gynaec & what

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid Privacy/the fear of being publicly shamed was the top concern for most women! There were also countless mentions of having opinions shoved down their throat, humiliated or made to feel like a ‘slut’. We have heard some stories of doctors extorting/blackmailing unmarried women.

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid None. They wanted it over with as soon as possible, what they did do is reach out to someone who they trusted and had more resources (economic/knowledge) etc.


On the need for a movement to stop the administration from dictating the bedroom dynamics

Haiyya on Twitter

@indianwomenblog @Mrinalinid We need to demonstrate to the administration that we won’t allow this anymore. It means investing in citizen’s leadership & community led campaigns. #HealthOverStigma addresses one facet of the problem. We needs a whole movement that embodies diversity & intersectionality.


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