“Healthcare is one of those central grounds where being female and being political intersects,” said Swarnima Bhattacharya at the NETRI Summit 2023. Bhattacharya, who is the Chief Product Officer of Gytree, a platform building a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem for women moderated a panel that focussed on why prioritising mental and physical well-being is a must for politics.
The panel included Sukriti Chauhan: CEO, ETI; INLAKS Scholar & Public Health Expert, Tara Krishnaswamy: Co-Founder of Political Shakti and Citizens for Bengaluru, Venu Dhingra: Political and Social Activist, Author of ‘Power Women’. The Summit had politicians, journalists, stakeholders and the youth of the country come together to discuss, ideate and throw light on the systems that prohibit more women from entering politics and what can be done to change that.
Women Healthcare And Politics
Mental Health and Physical Well-Being for Politics
Sukriti Chauhan, who actively works in the space of public health robustly, sheds light on how women negotiate their way through workplaces and in public and what we can do as a society to help them better.
“Women have it tough from the womb to the pyre. There are challenges at every stage. If I talk about motherhood, while it’s a beautiful phase and, mind you, should be a choice, it’s also challenging because in most cases, we tend to forget about the mother when the child is born. What happens then?” questions Sukriti Chauhan.
Women should never be afterthoughts
Pointing out how nearly eighty percent of pregnancies in India continue to be unplanned, given that we have now surpassed China as the most populated country in the world, Chauhan stresses how working on issues like postpartum care which also impacts workplaces is the need of the hour.
“We whisper too much about things that happen to women. We whisper about vaginas, breastfeeding or periods, for that matter. It goes beyond dressing, we need to respect their choices. I’m not anti-men at all. I just think it’s time to focus on women while taking men along.”- Sukriti Chauhan
Access to public healthcare structure and the lack of it
Tara Krishnaswamy who works with several female politicians on the ground draws from her experience and surfaces hard facts. Pressing that it’s about time more women in the political space must be included in integral decision-making positions, she says, “Women need better health structures, it’s not happening to the level it is supposed to. I have been working on the ground for quite some time in politics and policy. There’s a big gap with respect to access to public healthcare structures.”
“It’s crucial to understand how democracy works by being a part of it.” – Tara Krishnaswamy
Highlighting the urgent need to treat mental health as a priority, she says,
The panellists further discuss issues like the burden of sterilisation, the negligence when it comes to keeping healthcare as a main tool of democracy and how we can fix this.
How health itself takes a backseat?
Venu Dhingra, draws from her experience of doing on-ground party work and rallies and shares, “Does anyone realise where do female party workers go when they need to use the toilets? Sometimes, we’re so desperate that we use a public toilet if we get access to it and end up getting a UTI.” She continues, “We’re discussing just the surface of this huge issue of healthcare crisis concerning women, there’s so much more to be done whether it’s maternity care, postpartum, mental well-being.”
Not just access, but the mental toll it takes on female politicians when they are judged, body shamed, age shamed and under scrutiny for thousands of other things is vast too. Dhingra recalls an incident where two politicians who were entering parliament in clothes of their choice were rebuked for not maintaining the decorum of the house. “What has their choice of clothes got to do with anything in the parliament? Mental health degradation starts from the word go because we don’t leave them alone. About time we treat them equally and give them the respect they deserve.” she states.
“Why does the onus of being ‘good, responsible representatives’ only lie on women? Why can’t we move beyond judgements on female politicians’ dressing style and instead focus on the good work they’re doing?” asks Venu Dhingra
Suggested reading: Making Politics Representative Through Tech Platform And Summit On Gender Inclusion