ගබ්සාව මානව අයිතිවාසිකමකි. Abortion is a human right.

21192766_10155530544305185_2769376649665131624_n copy

(Original image from https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155530544305185)

ආරක්ෂිත හා නීත්යානුකූල ගබ්සාව සඳහා මානව අයිතිවාසිකම ගැන සටන වෙනුවන් මේ දවස්වල හඬනගන සහෘදයන් දැක්කම මගේ හිතට ලොකු හයියක් ආවා. ඔවුන් සමහරක් බෙදා හරින මේ පෝස්ටරයට මම සංශෝධන කිහිපයක් කරා. හේතුව අපේ මේ සටනේ මූලික හේතු මතක් කරගන්නයි.

ස්තී්ර දූෂණය, බාලවයස්කාර වීම, මාරාන්තික ආබාධ සහිත කලලයක් සහ ගැබිනි මවකගේ ජීවිතයට අනතුරුදායකත්වය වනි කරුණු ගබ්සාවට වලංගු හේතු සාධක තමයි. නමුත් කාන්තාවකට ගබ්සාවක් කරගන්න කොන්දේසි අවශ්ය විය යුතු නෑ. ශ්රී ලංකාවේ සහ ලෝකය පුරා ගබ්සා කිරීමට ලොකුම හේතුව වන්නේ අනවශ්ය ගැබ් ගැනීම්. අනවශ්ය වෙන්න හේතු මොනාද? ඉහත සඳහන් හේතු සාධකත් ඇතුලත් හැබැයි වඩාත් පොදු හේතු මෙසේය. ඇයට තවත් දරුවන් අවශ්ය නොවීම, ඇයට දරුවන් එක්කෙනෙක්වත් අවශ්ය නොවීම, ඇය තවත් ළමයෙකු සඳහා තාමත් සූදානම් නොවීම, ඇය ප්‍රථම දරුවා ලැබීමට තවමත් සූදානම් නොවීම, ඇයට ස්ථාවර සම්බන්ධතාවයක් නොතිබීම, ගැබ් ගැනීම ඇයගේ අධ්යාපනයට හෝ රැකියාවට බාධාවක් වීම හා මේ වගේ බොහෝ හේතු. මේවා පිටුපස බොහෝවිට මූල්යමය, චිත්තවේගාත්මක, ශාරීරික සාධක තියෙනව.

නිදසුනක් වශයෙන් ශ්රී ලංකාව තුළ සෑම දිනකම අවම වශයෙන් ගබ්සාවන් 700 ක් සිදු කරන බව ඇස්තමේන්තු කර තියෙන අතර නියම සංඛ්යාව මීටත් වැඩි බව ඇස්තමේන්තු කරනවා. ගබ්සාවන් ලබාගන්න කාන්තාවන්ගෙන් බහුතරයක් විවාහකයි (සමහර ඇස්තමේන්තු අනුව 94% ක පමණ). ඔවුන් ගබ්සා කරගන්න ප්රධාන හේතු ආර්ථික අස්ථායීතාවය සහ තවත් දරුවන්ට අවශ්ය නොවීම. ලංකාවේ මේ හේතුවලට ගබ්සා කිරීම නීති විරෝධී නිසා අනාරක්ෂිත ගබ්සා සිදු වෙනව. අනාරක්ෂිත ගබ්සා මාතෘ මරණවලට දායක වන සාධකයක්. ඉහළ ආදායම් ලබන ගෘහ ඒකකවල කාන්තාවන්ට ඔවුන්ගේ ගැබ්ගැනීම් ආරක්ෂිත (නමුත් නීතිවිරෝධී) ආකාරයෙන් අවසන් කරන්න හැකියාව සහ මුදල් තියෙනව. හැබයි මධ්යම සහ අඩු ආදායම්ලාභී ගෘහස්ථයන්ගෙන් කාන්තාවන් බොහෝ දෙනෙක්ට වෙන්නෙ අනාරක්ෂිත සහ නීති විරෝධී ගබ්සා කරගන්න. ඒවායින් බොහෝ විට මරණය හෝ දිගුකාලීන ආබාධිත තත්වයන් ඇති වෙනව. ගබ්සාව නීත්යානුකූල කලොත් ඔනෑම කාන්තාවකට අනවශ්ය ගැබ්ගැනීමක් හේතු සහ කොන්දේසි රහිතව නීත්යානුකූලව, ආරක්ෂිතව හා දැරිය හැකි මිලකට කර ගත හැකි වෙයි.

කෙටියෙන් කිව්වොත් ගබ්සාවක් කරගන්න අවශ්ය එකම හේතුව අනවශ්ය ගැබ් ගැනීමක්. ගබ්සාවක් කිරීමේ තීරණය ගත යුත්තේ ගැබ්ගත් කාන්තාව පමණක් හෝ ඇය විසින් අදාළයි කියා සිතන කෙනෙකුත් සමග විතරයි. වෙන කිසිම කෙනෙක්ගේ අනුමැතිය අවශ්ය නොවිය යුතුයි. ගබ්සාව නීතිගත කලා කියල හැම කාන්තාවකටම ගබ්සා ලබාගන්න අවශ්ය වෙන්නෙ නෑ. අවම වශයෙන් ගබ්සාව සමග එකඟ වෙන්න ඕනෙවත් නෑ (ආගමික විශ්වාසයන්, සදාචාරආත්මක පදනම් වගේ හේතු මත). ගබ්සාව නීතිගත කරන්නේ ගබ්සාවක් අවශ්ය ඕනෑම කෙනෙකුට එය කොන්දේසි විරහිතව තෝරාගන්න ලැබීමයි. අපි එම තෝරා ගැනීමේ සහ තීරණ ගැනීමේ අයිතිය වෙනුවෙන් තමයි හඬ නගන්නේ.

These past few days it’s felt truly encouraging to feel less alone in this struggle for safe and legal abortion. More allies are speaking up and taking action. This is a poster that has been circulating among such allies and I made a few edits to remind ourselves what it is we are fighting for. Rape, being a minor, foetus with lethal congenital malformation and danger to a pregnant woman’s life are all valid reasons to abort a foetus. But a woman should not need to “make a case” for why she needs an abortion. In Sri Lanka and all over the world, the reason women want the right and the choice to have an abortion is because a pregnancy is unwanted. Reasons? They could be any of those mentioned above but most often it’s because; she doesn’t want more children, she doesn’t want any children, she’s not ready for another child, she’s not ready for her first child, she’s not in a stable relationship, a pregnancy would interfere with her education or employment and many such reasons, most often based on financial, emotional and physical factors.

For an example, in Sri Lanka it is estimated that at least 700 abortions are performed each day (the actual figures are estimated to be much higher). Majority of women who undergo abortions are married (a staggering 94% by some estimates) and the main reasons for abortion are economic instability and not wanting more children. Since abortion is not legal in Sri Lanka for these reasons, women resort to illegal and often unsafe abortion. Unsafe abortion is a contributing factor to maternal deaths in Sri Lanka because while women from higher income households often have access and money to terminate their pregnancies in safe (but illegal) ways, women from middle and lower income households end up going to “backdoor abortionists”, often resulting in death or lifelong disabilities. Decriminalizing abortion would mean the women who want to abort unwanted pregnancies (for whatever reason(s)) can access them legally, safely and in an affordable and unstigmatized way.

The bottomline is, a woman should not have to list reasons why she wants an abortion and most definitely doesn’t need approval or “sign off” from anyone she doesn’t want involved in the decision. Decriminalizing abortion doesn’t mean anyone is then compelled to have an abortion or even be pro-abortion, should it be against their religious beliefs, morals, etc. Decriminalizing abortion means anyone has an unconditional CHOICE to have an abortion if they want one. We are fighting for the right to have that choice.

Advertisements

Memories and Things

How do we remember our dead? This thought crosses my mind whenever our extended families gather together. My grandmothers are no more and they have left behind a void that often goes unnoticed until you notice it and then you cannot not notice it anymore. You see a chair and you miss a smile. You see a book and you miss a conversation. As much as I believe in the Buddhist philosophy of detachment (believe being the keyword), at the end of the day what we are left with are memories and things, things and memories.

My two grandmothers. Habarakada achchi and Pannipitiya achchi as I called them, identifying them by their respective hometowns where they lived after marriage and until they died.

My two achchi’s. One made her presence known, almost always. Whether she was happy or sad or angry or unwell, she’d speak up. Sometimes she’d say classist or racist things, comically cringeworthy as with most people of her generation. Other times she’d say cleverly biting things about her husband, my only living grandparent right now, making all of us laugh. Even as her health deteriorated and reduced her mobility, she still ran the household using her words. During family functions such as alms givings, she’d dictate orders to my mother who for her part would humor achchi and then continue to do things her way because stubbornness is genetically passed down (I’d know).

Most recently, I was thinking about Habarakada achchi as we got ready for a family wedding. I’m sure many of us were thinking about her though we didn’t talk to each other about it. How we wished she could have been there with us, how maybe even if she was alive it would have been too daunting a journey for her to travel so far for the occasion and so on. As the wedding ceremony commenced and parents and elders were invoked, she was present in our memories. While watching the marriage rituals unfold, I turned to one of my aunts and told her how simple and beautiful her necklace was, only to be told that it was achchi’s. Achchi wore it when she got married and then my aunt. It was a bittersweet jolt to realize she was there with us in more than our memories.

img_2609

My father’s mother was a quiet but constant presence. She was the older of my grandmothers and was a rockstar in her own right. She had a very sharp memory and while her short term memory began to slip as she entered the tenth decade of her life, she’d recall and share things from the past. Recall, she probably always did, as she sat in her usual chair tapping her fingers on the armrest. Share, she usually did when prompted by someone because she used her words sparingly (clearly not a trait I inherited though stubbornness was passed down from this side as well). While I never knew my paternal grandfather (who gave me musicality, writing and a short fuse), some of his lyrics show that achchi was his muse. Or at least the dormant romantic in me likes to think so.

Five years ago, she was in my memories and close to my heart when I got married. I had my reasons to enter into an institution I remain dubious about and goes against some of my deepest convictions, I had my reasons to do it at 25 (while hearing the horrified shrieks of my 15 year old self) and I’ve since been proud and constantly amazed by how my partner and I have deconstructed and made our own this institution (not to be taken as an endorsement of said institution). But I was also trying to find, and remain, myself in a wedding that escalated from a simple ceremony at home to a full blown big fat Sri Lankan wedding and while whiskey helped a lot, what also helped was keeping my gentle grandmother close to me.

img_2612

Achchi gifted me this brooch many years ago with a note that said my grandfather gifted it to her for her 25th birthday while he was courting her. It was a reminder to my young(er) self that your 85 year old grandmother too has romance in her life and with my disinterest in new and/or branded wedding trousseau, it was the perfect piece of jewelry to wear that day (along with my mother’s wedding sari but that’s another post). I have no idea what the stone is, I have no idea how much the brooch is valued at but I like to think that its true value is that it kept her present at the wedding in addition to our collective memories.

Things, sentimentality and heirlooms are all overrated. If not our social class then our names are definite proof that we are not the kind of family who have heirlooms that go back great many generations though were she alive Habarakada achchi will remind us that her lineage goes back to King Mayadunne. We are also not the kind of family that has hoarded too many things from the past (a reminder to my father that most of the random things he buys off Amazon will be discarded one day except maybe the Reacher and Grabber, trust me it’s worth Googling). But what we do hang on to, whether it’s a piece of ordinary looking jewelry or a library of books or a rusty gramophone or an old pen, are a true testament to the power of memories and things.

My two grandmothers. My two achchi’s. I wouldn’t say not a day goes by without me thinking of you because that is not true. But I do think of you more often than anyone would assume and sometimes it helps to have something to hold on to other than the memories.

img_2611

A Love Letter To My IUD

Last week I came across a campaign that is asking people to write love letters to their contraception. As with most nauseating Valentine’s Day messages (I don’t celebrate, in case you didn’t catch on), I found these messages to be way too starry eyed and completely ignoring the not-so-good times that come hand in hand with contraception. So I’ve decided to write my own letter to my IUD and let me warn you that my love comes with some hate (doesn’t all love? no?).

I gave a gift to myself this year. On the 1st of January 2016 I visited my gynecologist and had a copper intrauterine device (IUD) inserted into my uterus. It came with a guarantee of 10 years which appealed to my choice to live childfree and it came with the dark foreboding of more pain which freaked me out to no end. Moreover, medical practitioners as well as many other people I know have confined the IUD to the domain of women who have given birth and older women that I wasn’t even sure if it was for me.

However after flirting with various methods of contraception for the decade or so I’ve been sexually active, I decided that the year I turn 30 should be the year I finally take charge of this aspect of my life. For an extreme control freak, this was an anomaly in my life and it came about due to a combination of my bad reactions to hormone based contraceptives, my constant paranoia about condoms and the resultant panic attacks (accompanied by emergency contraceptives or pregnancy tests or both), several dry spells due to medical complications and the lack of a non-judgmental and approachable gynecologist who would listen to my needs without imposing their views of how I should live my life. So I finally started taking the steps I should have taken over ten years ago. And please note that what I describe below is my personal experience and that it can differ from person to person.

Budding Young Love

Research | The first step was getting more information and gaining more knowledge on what I was getting into. My work on sexual and reproductive health and rights often has me writing about the need for a rights-based approach to access to information on contraception as well as access to services. But I realized that apart from condoms and contraceptive and emergency contraceptive pills, I had at best a vague understanding of the practical implications (both good and bad) of using other methods of contraception. So I did my research with both the more established sources (the Planned Parenthood website is a good resource) as well as by combing through blog posts by women sharing their experiences, again both good and bad.

More Research | I also researched gynecologists. What I realized was that my friends and I almost never discussed gynecologists. For people who go into almost garish details about each other’s sex lives, we were not discussing the health aspects of our sex lives. Of course there would be the occasional casual conversation about contraception, the not-so-casual conversation when someone needed an abortion but until our late 20’s or until a medical complication necessitated it, many of us didn’t bother with finding a gynecologist or doing the routine checkups that go with it. Once I began these conversations, I was able to find a wonderful gynecologist who is smart, professional, patient and at least seemingly non-judgmental.

Conversations | After discussing my discomforts with certain contraception and after learning about my choice to live childfree, the gynecologist recommended a copper IUD. She gave me more reading to do about the IUD (I may have given off the vibe for more information) and answered my questions about other possible options. I had a conversation with my partner, especially about the myths around how an IUD might be felt or come off during intercourse. He was mostly amazed by how much cheaper an IUD that lasts 10 years was compared to any other method so yeah he was onboard and then it was on to the actual insertion.

The First Fight

The first bump in the road to long-lasting protection (from pregnancy and not from sexually transmitted infections/ diseases) came during the slight pain caused during the insertion (details about an IUD insertion can be found here) and the avalanche of pain that came in the 24-36 hours afterwards. I was prepared for the idea of the pain, having had the necessary painkillers and cleared my scheduled for the day, but I was not prepared for exactly how much it was going to hurt. I had read in a blog post that it feels remotely like labor pain and while writhing around in bed with my partner massaging my back and holding a hot compress to my back and lower abdomen, I finally realized what the blogger meant. Just as one wave of pain ended, the other one would come up and so on and so forth. However I was lucid enough to think of the bigger picture and that got me through those hours (kind of, almost).

‘Honeymoon’ Period

Things were pretty rosy after that (sometimes literally since the IUD can cause spotting) and I was actually enjoying the feeling of not having to constantly worry about forgetting the pill or not having condoms at hand. At the same time there was a part of me feeling pretty strange about having this foreign object inside me and the first time I had sex after the IUD insertion, I had that irrational fear that it would either poke me or poke him (yes after all of the reading I had done). Thankfully neither happened. It still took some getting used to having otherwise unprotected sex and while I’m fully aware of the copper in the IUD being the spermicide, I have chosen to picture the IUD as a tiny boxer, throwing punches at each sperm that comes its way. Somehow that’s more comforting (don’t ask).

Brace Yourself….

……the period is coming. The first menstruation after inserting the IUD was one of mixed emotions (some of you may ask which period isn’t). I was extremely relieved to find out that it actually works (high five!) and on the flip side, the pain hit me so hard that I couldn’t sit up straight (I had been too preoccupied with work to anticipate its arrival with a painkiller as I usually do). As it is with menstruation, it arrived at the most inconvenient time while I was away from home at a conference and I spent a day fueled entirely by pain killers and black coffee in order to get from session to session. It was definitely worse than a regular period (which are bad enough for me) and an undercurrent of pain went on for about 2 days despite the painkillers. And my spoils of war afterwards were a back spent after spasming and sweet relief that it was over.

How Long Will I Love You

After that raging period, I was back to being in love with my IUD. Sure, there are some slight cramps when ovulation happens but that used to happen to me earlier as well and it’s just more defined now. But for most days of the month, I don’t even remember that it’s there and it has lifted a great burden off my shoulders. Like all new relationships, a month and a half is too early (unless he or she turns out to be an absolute nightmare) to tell whether the IUD and I are in this for the long run or not. In a perfect world I’d have had a tubal ligation years ago but I’m yet to find a medical practitioner who would facilitate that and hopefully the 30-something me would be taken more seriously one day when I revisit that option.

Until then, I’ve learnt that while no method of contraception is absolutely perfect and convenient, the IUD is what I need at this stage of my life and a few days of pain per month pales in comparison to the value it has added to my life. I have also learnt that I should never take for granted the access to information and quality services that is available to me because it has the power to transform your life and yet there are millions of women and girls around the world lacking such access.

So yes, I love you my IUD (maybe it’s time I named you) and please remember that even on the days I’m screaming at you and wishing that you were dead. That’s just how love works.

PS. 5 IUD Myths Busted

What’s Yours is Mine, What’s Mine is also Mine

“….if only you were narcissistic enough, if only you took proper care of your smells, your hair, your boobs, your eyelashes, your armpits, your crotch, your stars, your scars, and your choice of Scotch in bars – you would meet a beautiful, powerful, potent, and rich man who would satisfy every longing, fill every hole, make your heart skip a beat (or stand still), make you misty, and fly you to the moon (preferably on gossamer wings), where you would live totally satisfied forever.”
Erica Jong, writer and staunch feminist said that in 1942 regarding advertisements and horoscopes, or rather whorescopes according to her, of the time. We’d be quick to dismiss her cynicism claiming that we are a new generation with new thinking and that such Barbie-like images of perfection and perfect happiness are a thing of the past. But the cynic in me, who is also a realist to a great extent, begs to differ because even with everything the ‘modern woman’ has achieved, dreams of gossamer wings are still alive and while women have undoubtedly conquered male territories, they still use their gender as an excuse to avoid inconvenience.
First of all, let me not be a hypocrite. I am also one of those women who are on equal footing and in some instances above their male counterparts but many are the times I have found myself using my gender as an excuse to my advantage. It could be something as menial as changing a light bulb or something a tad bit advanced like repairing a patched tyre. The general attitude shown by most women in such situations is ‘I can drive a vehicle just like you but I’m a woman so that lets me off the hook from changing the tyre’. We wanted, we demanded treatment on par with men but now that we have achieved equality (at least in a relative sense) we use our femininity as a pretext.
Admittedly there are biological differences between men and women which make some tasks and situations more difficult for women but then again the vice versa applies to men as well. The strength with which a man lifts a heavy load could be greater than a woman’s but at the same time the delicacy with which a woman sews an intricate pattern is superior to that of a man.
In my opinion such biological differences are the only valid reasons for a woman to be excused because as it is we have made a joke out of our equal status by saying what is yours is mine but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to let go of the things that make me the so called weaker sex and therefore what is mine is also mine.
The instant reply (or most probably retort) to what I’m claiming would be that our society is such that at the root of the idea of what a woman’s role should be, there still remains that well groomed beautiful woman waiting to be swept off her feet. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that being a well groomed beautiful woman is a bad thing. Truth be told, with metrosexuals sprouting in every nook and corner, women have to contend to hold on to their title as the fairer sex. My point is, as natural as it is to have the opposite sex in mind when one beautifies herself, it should never be the only reason behind it. And it is up to women to take a stand and pave the way towards change by showing just that.
For an example Harvard University in a historic first appointed a female president almost four centuries after its inception. While it is laudable, it also springs the question as to why it took so long (noting that the first female student was appointed in 1945). To come closer to home, there is a marked dominance of female undergraduates in Sri Lankan universities but sadly the dominance is limited to numbers. Student activities and especially student politics still remain mostly as male only territories. Once again, it is fruitless for women to lugubriously await change.
To be fair by females things have definitely changed for the better with women looking for much more in life than a happily ever after. I don’t think there is any need for an explanation as to how women have conquered male territory. In fact a recently reported case of a female shark giving birth without having sex makes me wonder if a day will come when asexual reproduction by women will also be possible. Now that would take female domination to another level.
Getting back to the negative side of things, there still lingers the notion that a woman cannot survive by herself. Yes, in the present context these notions are absolutely justified but only because it is women who inflicted most of those on themselves. It is easier to blame men for making it almost impossible for a woman to travel alone in the night rather than blame herself for not fighting to change that situation so that is exactly what we do.
The reason why I think women need to take the initiative in bringing about change to such conventional attitudes is because it is they who face stigma and also because it is high time something was done to make sure the equality we have achieved is not just nominal. We live in a world with Idiot’s Guides ranging from kama sutra to baby sign language so empowering ourselves with what is necessary (more on the lines of self defence and self esteem) should be easy.
While writing this piece, a song I used to sing in nursery kept ringing in my ears. A show tune by Irvin Berlin from ‘Annie Get Your Gun’, it was a duet meant to be sung by a male and a female. And I think it is only fitting to end this article with a line from that song which sums up what we women should do if we are to make sure that ‘what’s mine is mine’ doesn’t mean we become the weaker sex and also if we are to tell men that ‘what’s yours is mine’.
“Anything you can do I can do better; I can do anything better than you.”