Chokhri, a New Sexual Health Project, Maps Marital Rape and Abortion in India

There’s a scene about birth control in the questionably feminist 2017 Hindi flick Lipstick Under My Burqa that stuck with me. Shireen, whose abusive husband rapes her and refuses to use condoms, goes to the gynecologist for another abortion. The gynecologist tells her she can’t keep having abortions and using the morning after pill, and the only other form of available birth control is the condom. Shireen, however, knows her husband won’t use them.

Hold up, I thought, sitting in the theater. What about the pill? After all, I get my pack easily available at my handy-dandy local Delhi pharmacy, prescription-free, for the grand total of 60 rupees (about 88 cents) a month. Easy, peasy, preventing pregnancy. Why wasn’t this fictional gynecologist suggesting that this lady who clearly needs a covert and independent form of birth control use the pill?

That wasn’t the first time I’d noticed a difference in the politics of contraception, and specifically the daily pill, in India versus in the United States. Compared to my friends at home, many if not most of whom are on the pill, none of my heterosexually-active women friends here uses the pill for birth control (more, in fact, use the morning after pill). I’ve had a lot of conversations about this, and friends pointed to many factors affecting our different attitudes toward hormonal contraceptives: mistrust for Western medicine, a mistrust for pharmaceutical companies, and lack of sex education in homes and schools (of course, far from an India-specific phenomenon). Friends also pointed to the role of state-sponsored family planning programs, exclusively geared toward married women and including sometimes-fatal forced sterilization, in sowing justified mistrust towards contraception programs as a potential act of state control. Finally, while we had these conversations among ourselves, there was a distinct lack of sexual and reproductive health resources on even our progressive university campus.

One new site is looking to change this. Called Chokhri, a Hindi word meaning “girl” (but in a pejorative, “woman of ill repute” kind of way), the site aims to create crowd-sourced maps of sexual assault, workplace sexual harassment, abortion access, and marital or intimate partner rape. While crowd-sourced maps of gendered violence aren’t new, Chokhri’s approach is important. First, the project includes a map of marital or intimate partner rape, which remains legal in India, and which is often overlooked in favor of sensationalized accounts of public sexual violence by lower-class and caste men against upper-class and caste women.

Second, the map of abortion access is useful in sparking a conversation about particularly young, unmarried women’s access to reproductive healthcare and contraception. In a social context where premarital sex is certainly common but remains quite taboo, discrimination and moral policing against sexually active unmarried women by gynecologists and other medical professionals is rampant. Meanwhile, there is a massive problem of sex-selective abortion against female fetuses, which contributes to a highly skewed sex ratio and the devaluing of girls’ lives. Yet access to abortion remains difficult particularly for poor and unmarried women. This is especially true considering that, while abortion by doctor’s recommendation to protect the health of a woman or in the case of rape is universally legal, elective abortion (abortion in case of contraceptive failure) is  technically only legal for married women. While  unmarried women can access elective abortion under-the-table even in reputed clinics, stigma and socioeconomic constraints mean that access remains an issue.

Chokhri’s demographic seems highly skewed toward young, English-speaking urban women, which definitely limits the scope of experiences it can represent. Yet the videos on its Twitter, featuring young women talking openly about sexual health, are great in a context where sexual health resources remain largely inaccessible even for privileged women.

Check out the site (plus an awesome cover image!) here, the Twitter feed (with videos!) here, and Vice India’sinterview with the site’s founder, Rashi Wadhera, here.

Read the original article here. Featured Image via Victor Byckttor at Wikimedia Commons.

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