Vagina Dialogues with Haiyya

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We began our Sexual and Reproductive Health-Gender workshops in April 2016. Engaging intensively with a group of adolescents, talking about the changes in the body, decisions that are made about the body, relationships, sexuality, and conversations about gender seemed more and more urgent. The aim is to create a non-judgemental, safe space, where the participants as well as the facilitators can engage with thematic areas and ask questions without any fears.

It was during a conversation with Zarina’s mentor Gayathri, that she suggested we tie up with Haiyya to facilitate a session with gynaecologist. Haiyya’s  mission is to strengthen participatory democracy in urban neighbourhoods across India and to build an aware, deliberative, and active citizenry by implementing, supporting, and sharing community organizing strategies to hold our government – and people – accountable for solving civic issues. One of their campaigns is around the reproductive health and rights of single women. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for not just the girls in the core team of Aagaaz, but also their female mentors to know more about their body and their rights.

The session was organized for the 26th of March in Gayathri’s living room. Mrinalini from Haiyya and Dr. Ankita, a 29 year old gynaecologist along with Gayathri led the conversations. The group as always was full of curiosities. Conversations and questions ranged from an understanding of the female reproductive system, to childbirth, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases, rape, legalities, rights, and much else. In Dr. Ankita, the group found a friend, who was talking to them without any moral strictures or even assumptions. The mentors too were active participants in the conversation. We realised that sexual and reproductive health is such a taboo and veiled zone that even those with more access and education often don’t have the right information.

We ended the conversations by creating lines of communication for the girls in case of any distress related to their bodies. Dr. Ankita, Gayathri, Mrinalini, all volunteered to be available in case a need arose. The evening was full of information, laughter, thought, and some brilliant sweet and savoury snacks Gayathri made along with chai. The 19 girls/women lingered on in the room till much after goodbyes were said and photographs taken. Few more friendships were forged that evening. Ankita will be back with us in a couple of months for another session – this time on cervical and breast cancer.

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