After receiving a lot of flak about his tweet describing women’s entry into Sabarimala temple as being “provocative” and “unnecessary”, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor proposed a Bill giving Sexual, Menstrual and Reproductive “agency” to women in Lok Sabha. Mr Tharoor rightly observed that the current laws treated women as second-class citizens with no bodily autonomy and considered them incapable of making decisions pertaining to her sexuality as a wife stigmatized their abortion rights as a pregnant woman and ignored their menstrual rights as a helpless, uninformed girl.
Though otherwise liberal, Mr Tharoor did come out as a hypocritical politician when he placed the sanctity of a temple and its rituals on a higher pedestal than basic gender equality. However, he more than made up for his controversial opinions on Sabarimala after introducing much-needed reforms pertaining to sexual and reproductive rights of women as well as menstrual destigmatization. Let us have a look at each one of them:
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1. Making marital rape a crime
India is a country where a woman is “preserved” to keep her body sacred and pure and her “honour” intact before marriage. The body of an unmarried woman is treated like a temple that must be kept untouched and respected by all men. Not to forget, all this commotion is for her future husband who can, according to Indian laws, toy with her as and when he desires and as a dutiful wife, the woman should fulfil all his bodily needs and honour the “institution of marriage”. Mr Tharoor calls out this barbaric Exception of the IPC, section 375 and proposes to criminalize marital rape. Not only this, but he also seeks to strike off all the “signals” associated with a woman’s consent for sex like clothing preference, clothing choice, social circle or personal opinions to presume sexual consent. If passed in Lok Sabha, women would no longer be sexual slaves of their husbands nor will they be slut-shamed and tagged “easy” for their daily choices. This can allow women to take charge of their own sexual needs and give them agency for their body.
2. Reproductive Rights
In spite of a Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in place since around 50 years, Indian women still do not have the choice to abort their child. The act only allows abortion under certain conditions like a risk to mental and physical health, an abnormal fetus, pregnancy as a result of rape and worst of all failure of contraception only in the case of married women. So if you are an unmarried healthy woman, exercising your sexual independence and get pregnant by chance, unsafe and illegal abortion is your only escape. It’s such a shame that life of an unborn fetus (and not even a baby), trumps over that of the woman carrying her. The proposed bill identifies women as individuals in their own rights and grants them the right to abort until the 12th week of pregnancy, irrespective of their marital status. It is high time that lawmakers realize that such laws put physical and mental health of a woman in a frenzy and strip her of her individuality for the crime of fulfilling her sexual needs, whilst being unmarried.
3. Menstrual Rights
Thousands of menstruating girls suffer every day because of the shame and stigma associated with their involuntary bodily function. They are forced into using unhygienic menstrual products and skip their school because of the lack of proper menstrual hygiene facility. The bill seeks to obligate schools and other public places to provide sanitary pads free of cost so as to eliminate the stigma surrounding them. Moreover, it hopes to achieve a state when the absence of sanitary pads is questioned just like the absence of cleanliness in toilets. The proposed bill, if passed, can raise the status of women by treating them as individuals with their own bodily autonomy – sexual, reproductive or menstrual – something women have been denied since time immemorial for the felony of being a woman.
Article credits: Arushi