Bringing better health to the Indian woman
TRADITIONALLY, Indian women have played the role of health care providers. But the reality of their own health is quite a different matter. Adverse sex ratios, higher rates of malnutrition and lower hospital admissions among women in India stand as a sad testimony to the state of their health care. And this does not include threats specific to their sex, such as rape and dowry deaths. Small wonder than that India's maternal mortality rate is one of the highest in the world.
Fortunately, the agencies working to improve women's health are undaunted by the task ahead of them. As befits the enormity and nature of the problems, these agencies are many in number and diverse in their approach. They include governmental and non-governmental organisations, national and grassroots groups, comprehensive and singular programmes, and research and funding bodies.
To cite but a few examples of their efforts: Integrated community health programmes are being implemented nationwide to ensure environmental sanitation, safe drinking water and immunisation; more women are being trained for employment in health services; clinics are being set up or expanded; women's groups are being mobilised for action for change; traditional herbal medicines are being promoted; the government -- at all levels -- is being urged to provide more resources and to enact effective legislation against discrimination; therapy is being provided for victims of violence, and, health education is being imparted in areas such as birth control and anaemia through kits, meetings and schools.
Many of the problems and solutions are united by a common denominator: the fact that Indian women have no control over mind or body. Advances in medical technology do not necessarily work to the advantage of women, In fact, they can be manipulated to increase oppression. For example, amniocentesis has led to increased female foeticide.
Accordingly, the main focus of all the agencies has been the empowerment of women. It is clear that women must participate more actively in health care -- they must identify their own needs and formulate their own responses. The potential of empowerment is encouraging for when given the opportunity, women have proved to be keen agents in all aspects of development.