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Editorial: Health and Sexuality

That health is one of the most important aspects of our lives is becoming increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown, both of which are placing a burden on already over-stretched health services. While adequate information dissemination and access to sexual health care services for women, for members of the LGBTIQA+ community, for people living with disabilities as well as other minorities has always been a challenge, now, it has become even more so.

When accessing general health care services has become so difficult, what happens to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)? For instance, just because there is a pandemic, women have not stopped menstruating. There are many young girls and women around the world without access to menstrual hygiene. Many women are in need of pre-and post-natal care, many are putting off seeking medical attention, people living with HIV are finding it difficult to procure medication, and health care professionals are themselves exhausted, and there is now, more than ever, the need for mental, emotional and community support.

Added to all of this, the lockdown with its ‘stay at home’ mandate comes with unique difficulties, especially for people who do not feel safe in their own, so-called, homes. Bullying, trauma, abuse, and violence can also be part of one’s experience of living at home. How does one protect oneself from the virus and feel safe at home at the same time? And alternatively, when the lockdown ends up separating us from our loved ones, how do we continue to nurture our relationships? Kaustav Bakshi writes about the complexities, hardships and losses faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community in times of COVID-19 especially in Kolkata,  and how this situation has forced the already marginalised community to the brink of helplessness.

Accessibility of services during a pandemic or a natural disaster becomes doubly complicated when the health services provided to women and marginalised communities are, in any case, not a priority for governments around the world in ‘normal’ times. Pabitra Neupane writes about the direct impact of humanitarian crises on SRHR on SRHR in Nepal on pregnant women, women with young children, women of certain castes, women with disabilities, and single women.

Time and again we see that women face barriers to access sexual and reproductive services, and how in patriarchal society, norms, expectations and rituals also play a big role in what a woman should do, be, or have. One of those expectations is to be married and to be a mother. Elsa Marie D’Silva reviews the film Private Life and explores the pressures, agony and the emotional journey of a couple who are struggling to become parents.

All of this is heavy stuff and needs to be talked about, of course, but we also have something that may bring a smile to your face (much needed in these times). Read the preliminary results of TARSHI’s ongoing Sexy Times Survey and, if you haven’t already done so, take the survey here.

In our Hindi section, we have translations of two of our English articles, one an interview with Jasmine George, a sexual and reproductive health rights advocate, on access, diversity and inclusion. The other focuses on how social norms can hinder access to sexual and reproductive health services for  adolescent girls, letting feelings of shame, guilt and judgment take over. That is why comprehensive sexuality education is crucial and Dr. V Chandra-Mouli makes a compelling case for it in this video. In Brushstrokes, we have an insightful comic by Everyday Feminism that explores false assumptions that people make about health, based on a person’s appearance.

We feature a Corner with FAQs on sex and COVID-19 and you can also find useful information on TARSHI’s SRHR and COVID-19 resources website.

Health, emotional, physical, mental and spiritual, is vital to our existence. Take care of yours.

In our mid-month issue, continuing with the theme of Health and Sexuality, we look at how we can expect our doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to be sensitive to issues of gender and sexuality if these issues are not addressed in the medical curriculum. Suchitra Dalvie, a feminist obstetrician and gynaecologist, makes a sharp and succinct critique of the training she received as a medical student – training that lacked even a hint of gender sensitivity or sex-positivity and that left medical students wondering if any good at all could come of sex. Fortunately, things are taking a small turn for the better now. There are attempts being made to heal this dysfunctional system that churns out moralistic, and seemingly uncaring and insensitive health care professionals. Providing examples and ways in which this is being done against the backdrop of a healthcare system that does not take an intersectional approach, Sangeeta Rege speaks with Shikha Aleya about successful efforts to integrate gender and sexuality into the medical curriculum in medical schools in Maharashtra so that doctors can take a more inclusive view of gender and sexual diversity.

Even in the absence of comprehensive healthcare systems, we all know that health is not just the absence of disease but a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. Our health can be as much compromised by a virus as it can by an act of violence or betrayal. And so, moving from healthcare systems to a more personal level, we have K writing an open letter to a former friend addressing the sexual trauma and betrayal she experienced on account of his actions.

In the blog-roll section, we have two articles. The first one reveals how nurses are the underdogs in the medical system in India, and how due to power play, financial gains and dirty politics, they have not been given official sanction to administer pills to induce medical abortion. The second one is about why gender matters and how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities, be it in terms of reduced access to healthcare services, increased burden of household chores, violence at home, or salary cuts.

With COVID-19, some of the biggest concerns at this point are ensuring an adequate means of livelihood, access to health services, protection from violence of all kinds, and being able to keep each other alive, safe, and well, over everything else. As a call to action, here is a statement by students, scholars and professionals calling upon all governments to address the increasing global domestic violence that has been occurring during lockdown around the world.

Stay safe, stay well!

Cover Image: Pixabay

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