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in plainspeak

TalkIng abouT

sexuality

In SouTh and SouTheaST aSIa

2009, Issue 1

Cover: Trans-, stills from dual channel video installation by tejal shah and marco paulo rolla

This publication is for educational purposes and limited circulation only. Supported by The Ford Foundation

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table of contents

letter from editor / radhika chandiramani / 2 who we are / 3 interview / kIMbeRlY Reed - The CouRage To STeP ouT / geetanjali misra / 4 issue in focus / The long Road ahead / Michael P. de guzman / 10 shades of grey / PRoSTITuTIon and The huMan RIghTS dISCouRSe / madhu bhushan, shakun mohini / 14 art space / VIdeo | InSTallaTIon / tejal shah and marco paulo rossa / 22 the bigger picture / WhY I do WhaT I do / pramada menon / 28 reel review / PRoSe aMIdST PoeTRY / aanchal kapur / 34 hot off the press / ouR bodIeS, ouRSelVeS / radhika chandiramani / 40 policy alert / The PhIlIPPIneS RePRoduCTIVe healTh bIll / 42 ‘I’ column / dinesh gupta / 45 did you know? / WhaT aFTeR PRegnanCY? / 46 at the resource centre / 48

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letter from editor

Welcome to the first issue of In Plainspeak in 2009! As always, we have an exciting collection of articles for you. In the Interview you will meet Kimberley Reed and her fascinating account of different transitions in her life. Art Space also focuses on transformation, posing questions both complex and radical. In a similar vein, Shades of Grey provides a different perspective about the human rights discourse and the way it is applied to prostitution. In the Bigger Picture we are taken on a fascinating journey by Pramada Menon who at puberty had not the faintest clue about menstruation and today is an avowed queer rights activist. You will also read about the challenges in working on HIV prevention in Cambodia, the reproductive health bill in the Philippines, and as usual, the film and book reviews. Plus, factoids on what happens when a woman gets pregnant. A young man with cerebral palsy shares with us his thoughts about sexuality and disability in the I column, making a plea to be treated as a sexual being, just like anyone else. Yes, it is a motley collection, but where else will you find such an array of issues and viewpoints? We are happy to present this to you, because to us it reflects a cross-section of the assortment that constitutes the field of sexuality as it is today. Multiple issues, multiple realities. Please do keep sending in your contributions and feedback to resourcecentre@tarshi.net. Stay well, loved, and happy.

Radhika Chandiramani Executive Director

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who we are

The South and Southeast asia Resource Centre on Sexuality is hosted by TaRShI (Talking about

in plainspeak
TalkIng abouT

Reproductive and Sexual health Issues) in new delhi, India. TaRShI is an ngo that believes that all people have a right to sexual wellbeing and a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality. TaRShI works on sexuality without restricting it to a disease-prevention, violence against women or sexual minorities framework, but rather from an affirmative and rights-based approach. TaRShI has been operating a telephone helpline on 2008 Issue 2 Unfurling I Tejal Shah sexuality since 1996. It also conducts trainings and institutes on sexuality and rights, develops publications for diverse audiences and engages in public education and advocacy. Its most recent publication is Radhika Chandiramani’s good Times for everyone: Sexuality Questions, Feminist answers (Women unlimited, 2008). For more information on our programmes and events, please visit www.tarshi.net The Resource Centre aims to increase knowledge and scholarship on issues of sexuality, sexual health and sexual well being in this region. It specifically focuses on sexuality related work in China, India, Indonesia, nepal, 2008 Issue 3 Southern Siren – Maheshwari Tejal Shah Sri lanka, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam. The Resource Centre has developed a range of programmes to enhance scholarship, increase access to information, and further dialogue on sexuality issues. Check out our website (www.tarshi.net). It hosts online moderated discussions on sexuality, news and announcements from the region, links to resources on sexuality and the library catalogue. You can also download an electronic version of In Plainspeak. a directory of Institute alumni is also available on the website. It provides information about human resources available in the region and also provides alumni with 2009 Issue 1 TransTejal Shah Marco Paulo Rolla a sense of solidarity/community. The Resource Centre also houses a library with over 3000 books and material on sexuality. The next basics and beyond: Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights Training for Trainers on Sexuality will be held on March 18 – 21, 2009 in new delhi, India. For more information, contact us at resourcecentre@tarshi.net

sexuality

In SouTh and SouTheaST aSIa

2008, Issue 2

in plainspeak
TalkIng abouT

sexuality

In SouTh and SouTheaST aSIa

2007, Issue 3

in plainspeak
TalkIng abouT

sexuality

In SouTh and SouTheaST aSIa

2007, Issue 4

Tejal Shah is a visual artist who works in bombay, India.

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interview

the courage to

step out

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interview

geetanjali misra

Kimberly Reed was brought up in a family of three children in a small town -- helena, Montana. The oldest Marc was adopted, the youngest Todd, came out to the family and now lives an openly gay life in San diego, and, Paul, the middle son, was a high school valedictorian and a quarterback with an aching secret. after Paul left home at the age of 18 he decided to change his gender. Today Paul is kim – a filmmaker living in new York City. Prodigal Sons is kim’s very personal autobiography, about her transition and also her very difficult relationship with Marc. The two were placed in the same grade in school and Marc was always jealous of kim’s talents in studies and sports. later at the age of 21 Marc suffered from a head injury which further aggravated his tumultuous relationship with kim. Prodigal Sons is a heart wrenching story which begins with kim returning home for her high school reunion,

meeting all her friends and her brother for the first time in her transitioned state. along the way the family discovers Marc’s true identity. he is the grandson of hollywood icons orson Welles and Rita hayworth. Prodigal Sons was shown at the 2008 Telluride Film Festival in Telluride, Colorado where it was a huge success with the audience. This was the 35th year of the festival, an annual labor day weekend event that attracts film lovers from all across the globe. The festival highlights the best of films of any given year – award winners from Cannes and berlin, along with new american independent films, revivals of silent classics, panel discussions and Q&a’s. The Festival also featured nandita das’ directorial film Firaaq and danny boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire both set in India. geetanjali Misra interviewed kim Reed following the Telluride screening of Prodigal Sons.

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Your film is such a personal story. It must have been so hard to make it. It was a tough experience. It is a film that exposes me, my brother Marc and our family and that can be a scary thing, but it can also be a rewarding and cathartic thing. Everybody I have shown it to in my family and our friends in our small town, has been very encouraging. When you have the courage to step out and really expose yourself like that, you also have the opportunity to really touch and reach out to people. It wasn’t like I was setting out to explore my relationship with Marc. But my relationship with him has been the one that has affected me the most in life. There were a lot of things that were unresolved and a lot of frustrations that I had about it. Marc was quite frustrated being raised in the same grade as me and kind of competing with me, even though I wanted that competition to go away for him, to just forget about it. It was really a very important relationship in his life obviously. For me to move beyond that and also go through the big transition I was going through, I just had to cut myself from Marc. I was reluctant to make this film. I knew it will be somewhat centered on me. I just wasn’t really convinced that we had a film on our hands until you consider my story versus Marc’s story. Just the fact that both of us have new identities and we get the opportunity to work out our relations in a way that a lot of families wish they could and we got that chance. So

even though I was reluctant to tell the story, just knowing that our family had such a tremendous story to tell, there was no way I couldn’t tell it. The filmmaker in me trumped the personal side of me that was a bit reluctant. How long did you not talk to Marc? There are different ways to define this. I think it was about a decade. He left home when he was 18 and I left when I was 18. We talked for a couple of years after that, kind of haltingly. But that was basically the last time we were close. We were getting updates from our parents, so it wasn’t like we were totally divorced. But then once I transitioned, but before my father died, I really cut myself from him, because my life had changed so much. You have said that Marc had a tough life, especially after his head injury. But didn’t you also have a difficult life struggling with the gender issue while being a football hero in a small town? I did. I think a lot of that comes through in the film. It wasn’t easy. But making this film was the hardest thing I have done in my life. Just to tell my story and that of my family in a way that it’s accessible to other people. I was always balancing how to show the drama without totally setting off such huge explosions that the audience cannot recover from it. It is very powerful to show documentary

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reality violence on film. That was the hardest balancing act. In allowing the audience to understand Marc better, I learnt a thing or two from that. Making the film was a very good vehicle for me to understand my brother. The film opens with you returning home for your high school reunion. Had you prepared everyone in school about the film and how did they react to your transition? We all knew it was going to be a pretty dramatic event that I was going back. Everybody knew about it and was on board and supporting it. But of course what ultimately happened was that we obviously discovered that it was not the biggest drama going on. Anyone who has a family or siblings knows the drama that all of us go through, that there are old histories that you have to work out. And that’s what took over and it became a much bigger part of the story than a football hero, a quarterback, returns home as a transgender person. The response of my classmates is reflected in the film by the guy in the football team, who tells the joke ‘I had a dream that we were all fat, bald and old and you were a girl.’ That’s of course not a dream. I haven’t heard from anyone who had problems with my transition. People were very curious about it. But hopefully looking at who I am now, that’s the factor that changes people’s mind the most. That’s the best way to explain the change.

Anyone who has a family or siblings knows the drama that all of us go through, that there are old histories that you have to work out. And that’s what took over and it became a much bigger part of the story than a football hero, a quarterback, returns home as a transgender person. The response of my classmates is reflected in the film by the guy in the football team, who tells the joke ‘I had a dream that we were all fat, bald and old and you were a girl.’ That’s of course not a dream. I haven’t heard from anyone who had problems with my transition. People were very curious about it. But hopefully looking at who I am now, that’s the factor that changes people’s mind the most. That’s the best way to explain the change.

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Would Marc act up more when the camera was on? I don’t think so. Some people expected him to act up when the camera was there. Others expected him to act up less when the camera was there. All I can tell you is my experience of knowing Marc and seeing these episodes that are caused by his head injury. I don’t think anyone will say that the camera doesn’t have any influence at all. But I can honestly say that, I really feel that he ignores the camera. He was completely supportive of all the shots we used. That’s just kind of how Marc operates. Sometimes I think about the relationship with Orson Welles. Orson always needed an audience. I suppose sometimes people who see the film think maybe the camera becomes Marc’s audience, that’s why he is acting up. What does happen is that the audience is the family and that’s who he is playing to. Whether or not the camera is there, it is the family relationship that he is mainly dealing with.You see it unfold at several points in the film. How did you make the choices about when to have the camera on and when to shut it off, especially when you were involved in arguments with Marc? The Producer and the Director of Photography, John Keitel, shot almost all the scenes you see in Croatia (Marc and Kim

visit Orson Welles’ girlfriend of the last twenty years of his life who lives there) and the high school reunion. Where the film became very intimate and about me working out my relationship with Marc, it was natural and much more intimate for me to shoot. And that is how a lot of those scenes unfolded. I wanted to separate myself from directing the film. But when all of this stuff happened, such as the big fight during the Christmas dinner, I suddenly picked up the camera. It was going to be a nice lovely Christmas Eve, at least when I picked up the camera. But it changed suddenly. Did you have to struggle as a filmmaker given your transition? And why did you decide to stay out of contact with people who knew you for some time after that? When I graduated from film school, I was working as a freelance editor. I was trying to balance two bodies of clients – one I had as a male and the other I had as a female. It was very difficult. It is hard enough to be a freelancer just out of film school. I didn’t feel I was ready to transition in the public eye like that. I wanted to switch gears and kind of start over. I thought no one was ready for me but in retrospect I realize that I wasn’t ready for it. I could have transitioned in the public eye, but at the time that’s how I felt.

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You are probably one of few transgender filmmakers. Do you feel that there are different expectations from you? That people are watching your career in a different light? Sure! Anytime you are breaking new ground, you are going to be known as ‘Oh, aren’t you this filmmaker or that filmmaker?’ Your label precedes your work. If I can step back from the film and think about the queer politics, me being transgender is a factor in the beginning, but then it almost disappears. And I think that’s what a lot of artists, who are a minority one way or the other think. We always want our work to precede our label. That’s what happens in this film. This issue that is going to be the massive issue – my being a transgender – moves back. Yes, it is interesting and fascinating in many ways, but is it the only thing? Absolutely not!

Geetanjali Misra is co-founder and executive director, CRea, new delhi. She is an activist and a film buff working in the fields of sexuality, gender and rights. She co-founded SakhI for South asian women in new York, was the President of the association for Women’s Rights in development (aWId), and is on the board of directors of Reproductive health Matters and Women’s Initiative for gender Justice. She has co-edited Sexuality, gender and Rights: exploring Theory and Practice in South and Southeast asia (Sage, 2005)

Anytime you are breaking new ground, you are going to be known as ‘Oh, aren’t you this filmmaker or that filmmaker?’Your label precedes your work. If I can step back from the film and think about the queer politics, me being transgender is a factor in the beginning, but then it almost disappears. And I think that’s what a lot of artists, who are a minority one way or the other think. We always want our work to precede our label. That’s what happens in this film. This issue that is going to be the massive issue – my being a transgender – moves back. Yes, it is interesting and fascinating in many ways, but is it the only thing? Absolutely not!

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issue in focus

the long road ahead
Like other countries in the region, same-sex behaviour is not frowned upon per se in Cambodia, as long as the man marries and creates a family. Buddhism views homosexuality as a result of a bad deed in one’s past life, and hence has a more tolerant, albeit sympathetic stance towards it. Families, meanwhile, are a different matter.
On October 10, 2008 the National MSM Technical Working Group (NMSM-TWG) held its quarterly meeting in one of the hotels in Phnom Penh.This working group was convened by the Cambodian National AIDS Authority (NAA) to address MSM-related issues on the national response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Cambodia. Just over a year old, it is composed of representatives of government, civil society, donors, and (supposedly) the MSM community (to the uninitiated, MSM stands for males-who-have-sexwith-males, a behavioural term that arose during the AIDS epidemic to connote males who have sex with other males without identifying themselves as gay or bisexual). As an independent consultant, I am the only member of the TWG who is not affiliated with any organizations I have mentioned. Except perhaps, the MSM community. This, however, is something I don’t like to claim because of a fundamental fact: I am not Cambodian. I will elaborate on this point later. Preventing new infections among MSM One of the highlights of the day’s meeting was the presentation of the results of the 2007 Behavioural Sentinel Surveillance (BSS). This was an important milestone because since the BSS was first conducted in 2007, it has never included MSM. A total of 729 MSM participated in the surveillance, from 5 provinces that have always been

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issue in focus

Challenges in HIV Prevention among Cambodian MSM

michael P. De guzman
covered by the BSS. Significant findings on MSM included: the existence of male and female sexual partners, about half of the respondents hadn’t had an STI check-up, low lubricant use, moderate reach of outreach work, a little over half had taken the HIV Antibody Test at Voluntary Counselling and Testing Centres, and had an alarmingly high rate of drug use, including injecting drug use. In the discussion that followed, Tony Lisle, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator, expressed concern at the figures presented. He underscored a very important point when he asked, ‘Are we preventing new infections among MSM?’ I didn’t think so. He called for a re-thinking of HIV prevention interventions for MSM because, in his words, ‘something is not working with the kind of outreach that is currently being done’. And health services for MSM are severely lacking as well. The discussion soon (d)evolved into what interventions should be done to reach the varied MSM groups: the srey saat (long-haired MSM, or what we’d call transgender), the pros saat (short-haired MSM, or the average-looking fellows), the visible (always the srey saat, sometimes the pros saat), and the hidden (possibly, the pros saat who never go to the bars, who often have girlfriends or wives). This last group is, of late, the focus of interest of many NGOs working with MSM. While there are no laws that discriminate against Khmer gays and (the more invisible) lesbians, there are also no laws that protect them. Like other countries in the region, same-sex behaviour is not frowned upon per se in Cambodia, as long as the man marries and creates a family. Buddhism views homosexuality as a result of a bad deed in one’s past life, and hence has a more tolerant, albeit sympathetic stance towards it. Families, meanwhile, are a different matter. One of the participants mentioned the effects of discrimination in the family on the health of MSM. Once a man is found out to be gay, he will almost always be driven out of his home and be disowned by his parents. To a Khmer, this is unacceptable. So, many of them choose to marry, while continuing to have ‘illicit’ sex with other men. Previous studies on MSM have hinted at the significance of this group in the response to HIV/AIDS. Largely unreached by programs, they seem to be very active sexually with both females and males and do not access the existing information and services for MSM. Because recent developments have brought MSM under the spotlight of government, the donors, and civil society, at least in terms of HIV/AIDS programming, reaching these ‘hidden’ MSM suddenly became an imperative. A personal stake I realized that for all the talk of programs, projects, and interventions for MSM, a critical element was lacking

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issue in focus
I remember that one of the reasons I got into AIDS work (in 1994) was my own concern for my health and wellbeing. I wanted to know more to be able to protect myself from HIV, and help others like me. Along the way I also learned that one of the elements that could determine the success of behaviour change is the personal recognition of one’s risk. This helped cement my commitment to the issue until now. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Cambodia, where most people got into NGO work because it is seen as a lucrative career. In the TWG, for example, how many people can honestly say that s/he has not said or done anything discriminatory against an MSM? People from NGOs who work with MSM in HIV prevention still utter jokes about MSM that raise my hackles. I know that at least 5 men in the meeting that day are gay or MSM but I doubt if they will categorically admit that fact. Discrimination has resonating effects Discrimination against MSM in Khmer families is, by this time, a known reality. This has always been cited as one of the important reasons why Khmer MSM choose to hide their sexuality. But what is always left out in discussions on coming out is that ‘taking risks in coming out has tangible rewards’, to use Tony’s phrase. The most obvious reward being, because one has been ‘unburdened’ of the need to hide, he can now freely express himself, increasing his access to information and services that will benefit not just his health but his general well-being too. This is part of what I’m referring to as a personal stake. That MSM are not adequately represented in national bodies is also another known fact. MSM focal persons in government agencies and in many NGOs are not even remotely MSM-focussed at all. Bandanh Chaktomuk, the national network of MSM, was created a year ago with financial and technical support of various NGOs. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stepped up to its mandate when it was conceived, due to many other reasons. I am personally hopeful that the current Executive Committee of Bandanh

I realized that for all the talk of programs, projects, and interventions for MSM, a critical element was lacking in the MSM response to HIV/AIDS. A personal stake. I mean, we were talking about doing outreach, establishing MSM-friendly clinics, and advocating for MSM. But on a personal level, what does advocacy really mean to, let’s say, a 13-year-old boy who lives in a remote province who’s just starting to realize he’s different from the other boys because he is growing to be sexually attracted to them?

in the MSM response to HIV/AIDS. A personal stake. I mean, we were talking about doing outreach, establishing MSM-friendly clinics, and advocating for MSM. But on a personal level, what does advocacy really mean to, let’s say, a 13-year-old boy who lives in a remote province who’s just starting to realize he’s different from the other boys because he is growing to be sexually attracted to them?

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Chaktomuk will perform better, in terms of representing the interests of Cambodian MSM in a national forum. The way forward In my opinion, no matter how competent one is in developing and implementing interventions for MSM (or any marginalized group, for that matter), this will not be enough without a personal stake. Because in my opinion, a personal stake allows people to be more creative and innovative in thinking of ways to reach out to MSM. A personal commitment strengthens and enhances interventions tremendously. On the side of the supposed beneficiaries of these interventions, the personal commitment of a service provider will nurture the client’s own commitment towards their health, in turn making them more receptive to behaviour change messages. The challenge is going about this in Cambodia, where culture and gender are very strong threads in the fabric of its citizens’ psyches. Many things have been done, with varying degrees of success. The number of NGOs working with MSM on HIV/STI prevention, health, and rights advocacy has increased. Future programs and interventions appear to be promising. Government recognition has manifested in positive ways, e.g. the formation of the national technical working group, support to MSM programming on a national level through the development of a 3-year strategic framework for MSM, and the inclusion of MSM in surveillance activities. However, judging from the way things are, a lot of opportunities are still untapped, especially in terms of reaching the varied groups of MSM, real and effective MSM involvement and participation in programs and interventions, and genuine and active MSM representation in national bodies.

a personal stake allows people to be more creative and innovative in thinking of ways to reach out to MSM. A personal commitment strengthens and enhances interventions tremendously. On the side of the supposed beneficiaries of these interventions, the personal commitment of a service provider will nurture the client’s own commitment towards their health, in turn making them more receptive to behaviour change messages.

This article has previously appeared in the Phnom Penh Post.
Michael P. De Guzman is an independent consultant based in Phnom Penh. Mike regularly blogs at http:// pinakadalisay.i.ph/.

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shades of grey

prostitution and the human rights discourse
some critical comments

All is not black and white… and we want to explore the shades of grey. Feminism is diverse and we don’t always agree totally with one another, though we may share a similar perspective. While we don’t want to silence other viewpoints, we want to focus on the finer distinctions between arguments used by people who are on the same side of the table. Does the Human Rights discourse provide for the best and most just way of framing and addressing the issues that women in prostitution face? Is it a useful strategy? What are its limitations and traps, if any?

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shades of grey

maDhu Bhushan, shakun mohini
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the paradigmatic framework for the notion of human rights that is being used by Nation States and Civil Society the world over to give voice to the marginalised communities in all cultures and societies. This same discourse is now being proposed to empower another marginalised community that is being increasingly stigmatised and criminalised – women in prostitution and sex work. Women who have been pushed into the nether worlds of social consciousness. Women who have been the victims of violence – both from within the trade and profession and from without; the violence of a judgemental attitude; but yet whose very marginalisation has forged within them strength enough to celebrate a way of life touched little by the hypocrisies of the mainstream. The Human Rights approach towards addressing the situation of women in prostitution and sex work seeks to affirm the individual woman’s agency and equip her with the right to exercise her choice of profession and to seek redressal when she feels this right has been violated. It also provides her with the right to seek protection against violence and exploitation within the profession and provide her with the means to exit from it if she chooses to do so without the burden of being stigmatised as a victim or as an immoral woman. This is sought to be done at different levels through: 1 Destigmatising the profession by declaring prostitution as work and therefore a legitimate option for employment. Decriminalising prostitution by recognising it as an industry and thereby bring it overground where it can be regulated through appropriate labour laws and regulations. Empowering the woman by granting her the status of a sex worker who has the same rights as any other citizen like the right to work, right to health, to education, to freedom of movement and to privacy.

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3

This attempt to recast prostitution solely in terms of sex work and recognise it universally as an industry whose labour force comprises of sex workers who have a right to exercise an employment option is disquieting. Not so much because of its intent to affirm the women’s self worth and dignity which is certainly non-negotiable, but because of the means, and the framework it is employing to do so. To understand why, we should perhaps look a little more carefully and critically at some of the conceptual limitations of this universal framework of rights, of how and why it

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shades of grey
fails to capture the nuanced realities of the women and how it will in reality affect the lives of those it is trying empower. The Arrival of Rights and the Rhetoric of Progress This idea of Rights that is today held to be universal was born in a specific historical and political context and therefore has moorings that are very culture specific: the culture of modern European civilisation. The history of Rights within the European context is a tale of two movements. The first is the story of totalitarianism i.e. the complete hegemony and domination of the culture of the state. The second is, to rephrase Marx, the story and history of struggle; the recognition demanded and won by the survivors of industrialisation. How this tale of two movements was inherited by the rest of the world as its own history and how the project on rights initiated by the modern European civilisation became the last word on human freedom and justice itself is a story of power and domination. For in the process of crossing European borders this idea of Rights acquired an absolutely decultured, impersonal and an almost imperious identity. the intimations of a social context within which Rights could not only incubate but also grow into its full scope and meaning. This context was of course the Nation State. With the formal freedom of the colonies after the Second World War, Rights was consecrated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nation State system was propped up by the former colonisers and elites of the recently ‘freed’ colonies as the arrangement best suited for democratic freedom, open politics, development and economic prosperity.This combined assault by Rights and the Nation State system implicitly denied the possibilities of the political arrangements and social relations which were indigenous to nonEuropean societies; it created a convenient amnesia in societies outside the West towards traditions of governance that were suited to and rooted in their cultural specificities. This amnesia created societies socially engineered to run on a series of deceptions that masqueraded as universal truths. Possessive individualism as expressive freedom, industrialisation as social progress, social contract as social relations, science and technology as paradigms of truth; arithmetical democracy as popular representation; and, Nation States as guarantors of justice.

This attempt to recast prostitution solely in terms of sex work and recognise it universally as an industry whose labour force comprises of sex workers who have a right to exercise an employment option is disquieting. Not so much because of its intent to affirm the women’s self worth and dignity which is certainly non-negotiable, but because of the means, and the framework it is employing to do so. To understand why, we should perhaps look a little more carefully and critically at some of the conceptual limitations of this universal framework of rights, of how and why it fails to capture the nuanced realities of the women and how it will in reality affect the lives of those it is trying empower.

Rights therefore entered the erstwhile colonies as a kind of European gift to the savage. And it was a gift that did not come alone. It brought along with it a particular notion of progress and development and

And, so today, the Nation State has replaced all other systems of political governance; the global market has subsumed all local patterns of trading and subsistence economies; the

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atomised individual as consumer, producer or seller of marketable goods has displaced all other holistic notions of being human and personhood; the avaricious consumer ethic has been put into place as the central driving force of every society displacing more interdependent life visions. them. The founding fathers of the liberal tradition from Hegel to Rousseau understood the feminine as women’s biological nature; her lack of political consciousness, her emotionality, her irrationality – all this made her a threat to public life and ‘citizenship’, and, therefore, all that women could contribute was in the ‘rearing of citizens’, And so too has Rights, that is inseparable from the rhetoric not by being citizen; not by contributing to the definition of progress, silenced all other expressions of justice and of citizenship. And, therefore, was legitimised the publicsocial transformation. private distinction that drew an inviolable line between the rational and the intuitive, the universal and the specific, Women’s Rights: Empowerment and the objective and the subjective, the feminine and the Enslavement masculine. It separated not only two realms of activity, but also two realms of morality. Corinne Kumar (1999) points One of the most crucial consequences of this masquerade out, ‘Women’s world was not the world of the intellect, of has been the near total invisibilisation of women. This has matters of the state, of concerns of justice and liberty – for been even more acute and prominent especially in those that was man’s world. Hers was the Conversable World, societies which traditionally were less hyper-masculine, subsistence livelihoods, of common life, of dailiness, which celebrated nature and the feminine and where of the vernacular’. In Mills’ famous essay on liberty, he women’s presence could not be invisibilised without first excluded from the rights to liberty the ‘backward nations splitting social worlds into public and private realms. This of the world and the women.’ In its exclusion therefore is not to deny that violence against of women, it not only left out the women and their marginalisation violence done to them as personal, Rights therefore entered existed in societies that valued the private, domestic but also their feminine. But the text of this violence experiences, their wisdoms, their the erstwhile colonies as was embedded in a context which life worlds and visions. a kind of European gift to did not marginalise the feminine as a principle of consciousness and Over time however, and with the savage. And it was a gift cosmology and separate the personal successful campaigns by the women’s that did not come alone. from the public. This process of movements, violence against women disembedding the personal from is being pulled into the public and It brought with it along the public has created its own set political domain. Women’s rights with a particular notion of of pathologies as we can see in the are being acknowledged as human progress and development process of how women’s rights came rights. Significant gains undoubtedly. to be legitimised in post-colonial But what in fact does this and the intimations of a societies. acknowledgement mean? For today social context within which whether it is ‘backward nations’ of And so it was that when the the world, the indigenous, the poor, Rights could not only Universal Declaration of Human the marginalised, and the women incubate but also grow into Rights was first articulated in 1948 – all are being included into the certain assumptions fortifying the human rights discourse… they are its full scope and meaning. public–private dichotomy were being included into development and This context was of course woven into this world view that the market…they are being given the Nation State. legitimised the denigration of the right to be equal partners in women even while invisibilising progress. In this process therefore

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violence against women, especially in the personal realm is being made visible and addressed through the institutions of law and order that have emerged from the state-centred rights discourse. However what is being rendered invisible by this same discourse is the increasing violence against them in the public arena that is being reconstructed by the dominant paradigm of development. A paradigm which while promising greater ‘freedom’ is actually creating new forms of economic enslavement that brings in its wake conditions of vulnerability and violence for the women, both within the home and outside. And all this in the name of equality – where the women’s worth can be computed only if she becomes equal to man – the masculine principle that is central to all dominant modern societies. more often that not, at the cost of women themselves. For as stated already, the language of rights fails to contextualize the larger realities by adopting a universal and therefore a decultured, impersonal, amoral framework that anaesthetises the pain of poverty in those developing worlds where not only has the violence of trafficking been institutionalised but which are also witnessing the increasing brutalisation of prostitution. Prostitution is now being transmogrified into a sex industry in this era of free enterprise and the global market. For in this era, prostitution too like any other trade has expanded and found newer markets beyond the local and the domestic, making profound and disturbing changes within its nature. For now it continues to be sustained not so much by community needs and demands but by larger impersonal markets that are located in more affluent metropolises within the country and outside, by invisible trafficking syndicates that are more organised and criminalised, and, in fact, by the omnipotent State itself. For all Nation States today in the process of rebuilding their economies to cater to demands of the global market, are creating new institutional frameworks for trafficking in women and children. Paralysing poverty being created by policies of structural adjustment leading to forced migration and therefore the creation of the economic refugee; tourism that was once thought of as a voyage of discovery but now has been reduced to another consumptive activity that thanks to State policy has declared it as an Industry with an open license for selling its lands, its peoples, its way of life and also its women; military prostitution in times of war and the increasing militarization of societies; corporate sex tourism in countries of Asia…are all rendering women more vulnerable to new forms of violence and exploitation.

The language of Rights can therefore never capture the real pain of these worlds in which lives and livelihoods are threatened by the dominant vision. It seems therefore little more than a cruel cover-up for the harshness and ruthlessness in the manner in which the poor, In this process therefore marginalised and defeated in the Darwinian world are treated. In this violence against women, context Rights remains a chimera especially in the personal – an absolute enslavement that masquerades as freedom and choice. realm is being made visible The attempt to give visibility to women in prostitution and sex work within this framework of Rights is a poignant testimony to this heartless masquerade. Prostitution, Violence and the Human Rights Framework. In the context of prostitution therefore when in order to right the wrongs done to women, the framework of rights begins to replace the language of justice, the basic contours of this very complex institution begin to get redrawn – and

and addressed through the institutions of law and order that have emerged from the state-centred rights discourse. However what is being rendered invisible by this same discourse is the increasing violence against them in the public arena that is being reconstructed by the dominant paradigm of development.

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The violence in trafficking and in prostitution can not be separated from the total impoverishment of entire societies that constitute either the resource base for wealthier nations or end up as waste byproducts of a highly industrialised and corporate world; a world in which the disparities between the rich and the poor are horrifyingly stark, a world in which human relationships have gained an impersonal, contractual quality and the complex fabric of human impulses has been reduced to the unidimensional desire of an individual – rootless and ruthless in his desire for self-fulfilment. In this context, the process of seeking legitimacy for prostitution as an industry and categorizing all women who have adopted this way of life as sex workers who have the right to choose this as a profession and therefore on this basis can make demands for better working conditions and get adequately compensated for it has certain disturbing implications. owners and managers etc. It is also a fact that legislations of all kinds seek to control or regulate prostitution and can only mean more repression of women. Surely, consensual sex between two willing adults for or without money or gain can neither be held illegal nor policed except by an extremely moralistic political regime. Prostitution is not a law and order problem. Exploitation, abuse, harassment, abduction and sale or forced sex work are, and State intervention is required only in these instances. Any greater intervention than this that would involve either criminalising or legalising the entire institution would be social engineering at its worst. What are the specific and deeper implications of recasting prostitution to fit into the history and morality of the industrial revolution?

. . . prostitution too like any other trade has expanded and found newer markets beyond the local and the domestic, making profound and disturbing changes within its nature. For now it continues to be sustained not so much by community needs and demands but by larger impersonal markets that are located in more affluent metropolises within the country and outside, by invisible trafficking syndicates that are more organised and criminalised, and, in fact, by the omnipotent State itself.

Prostitution is not a homogeneous system. Where women come from, why they come, how they come and who introduces them into prostitution are all varying factors. Therefore searching for one way to understand and one way to decide what the ‘rights’ are they need to be ‘given’ and what the ‘wrongs’ are that need to be removed from their lives continue to be nebulous quests. Governments of countries across the world have legislated systems and practices of prostitution in one way or the other through legislation ranging from criminalising women offering sex services to the prosecution of players other than the woman, such as clients, pimps, sex industry

1 The absolute atomisation of the woman who is apparently exercising her individual rational right to a profession of her choice would totally miss the fact that the communities and cultures she is a part of are being pushed to the peripheries of the global economic order. It is not an accident that the centres of sex tourism industry lie in the peripheries like South East Asia or Eastern Europe now and not centres like California or Paris. The reduction of the identity of all women in prostitution to merely sex workers is tantamount to reducing something life-giving and fundamental like sex to the clerical and bureaucratic theology of ‘work’. ‘Work’, that as Shiv Vishwanathan says ‘is a modern invention created by missionary monks and current theologians of industry’. What is more,

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it obfuscates the fact that prostitution more than being a right to work is actually a right to life, to livelihood. 3 Sex worker, a term conferred by impersonal global markets, seems to be a more secular and legal identity as opposed to the more common women in prostitution that apparently is derogatory to and denying of the women. The irony is that the rejection of latter is in fact the subtle acceptance of the moralistic presumption that prostitution is a more demeaning identity or activity. The absolute devaluation of a woman’s sexuality the moment it is absorbed into the market as sexual labour where sexuality itself can only find its home in a body devoid of any personhood or humanity. of care and benevolence however imperfect it may be. 7 Legalisation would also entail licensing and zoning, which while may be beneficial to those in institutionalised forms of prostitution such as brothels, would in the case of women in street prostitution, increase their vulnerability to the arbitrariness of the licensing and monitoring authorities such as the police. This would drive them to seek more discreet ways to ply their trade and in the process, fall prey to other exploitative forces such as road mafias and goons. 8 Handing over the task of destigmatising women in prostitution to the State who it appears has greater powers to legislate social transformation. But in fact, genuine transformation can only happen from within, when society is forced to accept moral responsibility for granting selfrespect and dignity to every one of its members who in turn have the right to seek justice if it does not do so.

4

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The decreasing control that women have over their business and lives that are being taken over by men with clear links with larger trafficking enterprises and the sex industry.

Surely, consensual sex between two willing adults for or without money or gain can neither be held illegal nor policed except by an extremely moralistic political regime. Prostitution is not a law and order problem. Exploitation, abuse, harassment, abduction and sale or forced sex work are, and State intervention is required only in these instances. Any greater intervention than this that would involve either criminalising or legalising the entire institution would be social engineering at its worst.

9 6 The institutionalisation of the complex relationship between the women, brothel owners, gharwalis (madams)and pimps into a contractual arrangement between an employer and employee who function within an established management framework is an attempt at decriminalisation and bringing the business over ground. This approach presumes that this contractual arrangement could be far less exploitative than the informal web of relationships around the women, which is coloured by expressions

Finally, in a country that is continually diluting pro-worker legislations and where existing benefits and entitlements under the law hardly reach the lowest in the rung, is it not too much to expect that sex workers’ right to work, right to benefits and entitlements will automatically become attainable on recognition of sex work as ‘work’? They will then formally have the privilege to join the millions of poor and the marginalised who jostle and struggle to get even a fraction of entitlements that are rightfully theirs.

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All these reveal that the historical and cultural evolution of prostitution in different contexts as a way of life embedded in community structures and a trade that has over time evolved its own sets of regulations mechanisms from within, needs to be accepted and understood before appointing the State as the protector and custodian of the Rights of the women. For otherwise the Human Rights framework becomes a strategy to replace a more radical social transformation that ensures the dignity and selfrespect of the women. This is not to deny the relevance of Rights as a survival strategy to negotiate for wider survival spaces within the given system; to make the State, however flawed it may be, to be more responsible and accountable to all its citizens. But it is crucial that we restrict the Rights approach to only a strategy and not derive from it any profound visions for possible futures. For Rights as a systemic imperative is the need only of those in power. As survivors with the sharpest insights, be it on the ‘double standards of morality’ in society, the violent underpinnings of trafficking networks or even the hollowness of state sponsored rights, it is the vulnerability of the women in prostitution that best enables them to define the contours of a more rooted and diverse rights discourse that will help resist the violence in their lives. And reclaim an autonomy that no one agency can either confer or deny; an autonomy that helps them redefine dignity, security and self-worth in their own multiple languages and on their own terms.
References: Gustavo Esteva. Human Rights as Power Abuse in Sacred Mountains Everywhere, Streelekha, 1995. Shiv Vishwanathan. Unraveling Rights in Sacred Mountains Everywhere, Streelekha, 1995. Corinne Kumar. South Wind in On the Universality of the Human Rights Discourse, Banyan Tree: El Taller, 1999.

Madhu Bhushan has been working for many years on issues ranging from development, violence against women, wars and peace, women and poverty, hIV and dispossession of positive women, and trafficking of women and children as part of CIedS Collective, Vimochana and aWhRC (asian Women’s human Rights Council). She organizes campaigns and community mobilising – both in urban slums and tribal and rural communities, and contributes to publications. She holds a Masters degree in Mass Communications. Shakun Mohini has a background in business Management and a Master’s degree in Sociology. She had been a volunteer with Vimochana for many years while working in a public sector bank as a Senior Manager. She has also been active in the bank union movement. With Vimochana, she now works with women in street prostitution, towards making violence against women in prostitution visible in the public and state conscience, while helping the women to organise themselves into strong collectives.

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tejal shah
video | installation

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Transstills from dual channel video installation Tejal Shah (India) and Marco Paulo Rolla (brazil) 12 min, colour, sound, 2004-5

Male and female, where is the limit? The beard as a macho statement. Jewellery and make-up constructing the female. Two masks that work as a cliché sign of gender for society. What happens when male and female cross these borders? What is the limit of human sexuality? In this work using video & performance, we construct the trans-…formation, mutation, figuration from one gender to its opposite. We try to communicate and make possible a reflection about the exploration of the ascribed opposite gender behaviour as a possible affinity for a human sexual being. Do we appear as what we feel? Many times people can’t realize who they would like to be: which kind of behaviour, sexuality, gender orientation or style of dressing. The screen is divided into two parts, where the two faces are looking at themselves/the audience/the mirror, a man and a man, a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, crossing their original gender, making a transsexual looping.

Tejal is a visual artist working with video, photography, performance and installation. her work, like herself, is feminist, queer, sexy & political. She has exhibited widely in museums, galleries and film festivals in India and internationally. lately, she has taken to a nomadic existence, living and working out of her laptop. Marco Paulo Rolla, from São domingos do Prata, brazil, is a multimedia artist, who works with painting, drawing, print making, ceramics, video, sound, dance and theatre, to explore subjects of daily life.

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why I do what I do
to pee and could do it standing up, My mother often asks me what I whereas we girls had to look for a do when I facilitate trainings on If you were to ask me why secluded place, and had to sit down sexuality – do I train people on how and ensure that no one was looking to have sex? I think that it worries do I do this work, I would and only then could we pee. I was her that I may be doing this and she say that it is to create spaces curious about how their mechanism is not sure how to tell her feminist worked since it seemed to be a daughter that this may not be such where issues of sexuality wonderful invention. But this was a good idea. For a long time, my and gender can be discussed, not a discussion that could be had parents were uncomfortable about at all, and all matters below the belt mentioning the fact that I worked nourished, disagreed on and above the thigh remained in on sexuality and gender, as though darkness and shrouded in silence. it somehow made me more of a but definitely spoken about tart than I was considered to be. It in loud voices rather than As I grew up and recovered from was safe for them to say that I was the shock that I did not have cancer a consultant, and as we all know, hushed whispers. and the bleeding was only my consultants can work on a whole body letting me know that it was range of issues. A silence creeps into functional, I realized that most girls conversations at parties when I say I are not told what periods/chums/ whatever name you wish work on issues of sexuality and gender, since everyone is to give it, are all about. Everyone is allowed to guess what unsure of how to deal with the mention of sexuality in a it could possibly be and then elaborate efforts are made by public space. all around to try and hide the fact that this biological event happens. Shop-keepers wrap a pack of sanitary napkins in So if you were to ask me why do I do this work, I would paper and then place it in a black plastic bag. Most other say that it is to create spaces where issues of sexuality and products are dumped into a white plastic bag and handed gender can be discussed, nourished, disagreed on but over to the customer, but this is something that needs to definitely spoken about in loud voices rather than hushed be kept hidden from human view. I thought that the 80s whispers. The silence is incredible and I watched it grow was the time when menstruation was a taboo subject, but as I grew up. As a child, I wanted to know why boys had to my horror, I discover young girls today who still have handy tools that they could whip out when they wanted

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PramaDa menon
no clue. I am not talking about those who have progressive parents, but the many others who don’t. Tampons are not discussed in the Indian context, since many people believe that inserting a tampon may result in the hymen getting punctured (which is not true at all) and we do not want non-virgins wandering around. The arranged marriage market would be very seriously affected! Very clearly, no understanding that the hymen can be ruptured by cycling, strenuous exercises – any mundane physical activity and does not need any sexual activity to be performed. Menstruation also brings about the recognition that one is now fertile and therefore the process of control and protection sets into automatic motion. Without any explanations given, girls find themselves being sequestered in girls-only spaces, warned about men, and told that they should not be out late at night, and nowhere in the sermons delivered is there any true explanation of the act leading to pregnancy. Dire stories of pregnancy are recounted and girls are led to believe that looking at a man, touching a boy would all result in pregnancy. I believed that if I necked my boyfriend I would get pregnant and that my mother would instantly get to know.The closest I got to getting any information on this subject was the entry of Johnson and Johnson, the pharmaceutical company, into our school and the screening of a film that explained to us how we were now ‘women’. The film was so academic and so pedantic that none of us truly understood what was going on, and then, to our shame, we were all handed a small packet with two sanitary napkins in it. All of us walked out of the hall in silence. Too embarrassed to even catch each other’s eye. Growing up is never easy – especially since one has to deal with the hormones that are racing around the body and the fact that crushes for someone or the other develop every day. My college life was full of stories of heterosexual gaiety and finding anyone expressing their desire in a way that was not the ‘usual’ was almost an impossibility. We gossiped and proscribed gayness to those we thought behaved ‘femininely’ whatever that indicated to us at that point. I do not recall any stories of women who were lesbian, or, may be, at that point in time I did wear blinkers and was unable to conceive of any relationship other than one that involved the penis in some way or the other. Sexuality was not discussed in Delhi University, except may be as part of the English or Hindi Literature courses and that too, in a manner that was completely academic and lacking any real passion. This was the early 80’s. The situation is completely different now. Years of talking and working on issues of sexuality and gender have opened up spaces within colleges in Delhi. I am amazed to see the number of colleges that have discussions, film shows, plays on these issues, and across disciplines. Ingenious ways have been thought of to introduce the subject within fora in women’s colleges. Sexuality and the law was a hot topic for some time – precisely because the subject was vague enough for the introduction of the issue

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of same sex desire – and no one could accuse us of subverting the young people, we were just in the field of education! as yet, but a political one, we were amazed at the homophobia that we found lurking within the women’s movement. This was the ground that I grew up on and learnt a lot from and yet, I was warned about sharing a room with a woman at a conference because she was lesbian! Amazing, isn’t it? One understands violence in very direct ways, but this form of violence always goes unnoticed and one tends to dismiss it as ignorance.

. . . a fellow activist once remarked that at a protest

against one such beauty I have been working in the social justice field for more than twenty contest, she heard an invitee years now. For a long time after for the show saying, ‘Look I began working, there was very limited or no understanding of at the women who are issues of sexuality.What we did have was the heady excitement of gender protesting, they all look so analysis, something that allowed us down and out and ugly! No to bring women within the ambit of the work that we did. We did have Around 1993, I recall many heated wonder they are protesting.’ many discussions and programs discussions with activists on the that touched upon the woman’s immaturity of discussing lesbian body, but that was always in the issues in the context of India since context of violence or reproductive health. There was no poverty / sustainable livelihood / water were far more celebration of the woman’s body. This was also the time important issues; and why should a country be held of blackening of film posters that showed women wearing ransom to a fringe group of women talking about lesbian bikinis, it was the time that protests were organized against rights? This discussion came up in the light of the process beauty contests. And, as a fellow activist once remarked leading to the Fourth World Conference on Women in at a protest against one such beauty contest, she heard an Beijing, and the fact that someone at a preparatory meeting invitee for the show saying, ‘Look at the women who are had challenged the UN declaration that made 1994, the protesting, they all look so down and out and ugly! No Year of the Family. Interestingly enough, at the National wonder they are protesting.’ At that point she hated it, but Conference on Women’s Movement in India, held at now she laughs and says what a rag tag bunch they were, Tirupati in 1994, ‘the declaration of the conference itself protesting against glamour and dressed in true ‘NGO-type’ clearly acknowledged and supported the right of all women type clothes. By which I understand that means handloom to make choices about our bodies, our sexuality and our clothes, which look just a bit shabby, a shoulder bag and a relationships. It recognized that women in patriarchal general unkempt look. Protests looked like that then; now, societies are further marginalized if they identify as lesbian I think the nature of the discussion around beauty contests or bisexual women’1 has changed – we have gone beyond the commodification I was negotiating all these battles while working at an of women to also accommodate the agency of the woman organization that provided sustainable livelihoods to crafts who actually participates in events of this nature. There people. There wasn’t much scope for interactions with does seem to be some kind of understanding that one rule mainstream women’s organizations working on what cannot apply for all. seemed as more ‘hard core’ issues.Yet, one learnt a lot from looking around and seeing what was not being talked about, By the late 80’s, early 90’s, the lesbian word had entered the what was not getting included and what were the areas that lexicon of some of us working in Delhi. We heard of ‘real everyone tended to ignore. The endless and acrimonious life lesbians’ networking, and we tried to guess who within discussions had forced me to start linking the work that the women’s movement were in same-sex relationships. I did on sustainable livelihood, gender and the world of For those of us for whom this was not a personal issue, in plainspeak
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sexuality and more importantly the right of all human beings to live their lives with dignity. Heterosexuality also was not as hyped up as it was made to be. Many of my friends and I were running into trouble because we chose to live unorthodox lives where we made decisions regarding our bodies, our lives and our relationships. That wasn’t acceptable. I was a participant at a workshop on HIV/AIDS where one of the exercises required that the group be sub-divided on the basis of married older men/ women and unmarried men/women. The subtext was that unmarried meant those who had had no sexual activity in their lives. The assumption was also that all the participants were heterosexual. I remember the facilitator looking a bit shocked when I exposed these assumptions and some of us moved away from the group that we had been forced into. discussion on lesbianism, same sex desire and sexuality. CALERI – The Campaign for Lesbian Rights – came up following broad-based protests against the Right Wing Shiv Sena’s attacks on the film. The individuals and groups that had been actively involved in the protests, decided to develop a year-long activist effort to forefront lesbian issues in public spaces. I was active in this campaign and learnt a lot through this. It was the time that organizations working on women’s rights were forced to take a stand and it was interesting to see the excuses that some of them came up with, so as to not have to take a stand. It’s also the time that I found myself having to explain that I was involved with the campaign not just because of what my personal identity was, but because I believed it to be about human rights violations. While I worked with craftspeople, nobody ever asked me whether I was a craftsperson, but suddenly when working on lesbian issues I had become partisan and one of them and therefore militant and so on…

1998 was an important year in many ways for what I wanted to do. It was the year the film Fire was released in India. I will not discuss the film, since that is something that has been done to death. What was important was the That was twelve years ago. The firmament for action has fact that the film depicted desire between two middle-class altered radically now.There is a proliferation of organizations women living in the same family in Delhi and that was working on issues of sexuality and sexual rights, a large not palatable for the Right Wing number of programs are organized in India. What aggravated matters with college students, academics was also the name of one of the are publishing, Bollywood has gay . . . now, I think the nature women – Sita, also the name of the and lesbian characters – a lot of consort of Lord Ram, the hero of them completely hateful, columns of the discussion around the Hindu religious text Ramayana. in newspapers… a multitude of beauty contests has changed The theatres were attacked and new ways to deal with issues of many statements were issued in sexuality. Most importantly, a case – we have gone beyond the the press: ‘Two women having a is being fought in the Delhi High physical relationship is an unnatural Court for exempting consensual commodification of women thing’ – Pramod Navalkar, the then adult same-sex sexual activity to also accommodate the Minister for Culture of the State of from the purview of Section 377 Maharashtra, and, ‘Why are such (Unnatural Offences) of the Indian agency of the woman who films made here? They can be made Penal Code which reads: Whoever actually participates in events in the US or other western countries. voluntarily has carnal intercourse A theme like lesbianism does not fit against the order of nature with of this nature. There does in the Indian atmosphere’ by the any man, woman, or animal, shall seem to be some kind of then Union Minister for Home, be punished with imprisonment 2 L.K.Advani . The right wing anger for life, or with imprisonment of understanding that one rule enabled the placing of sexual desire either description for a term which within the public domain and more may extend to ten years, and shall cannot apply for all. importantly it opened up spaces for also be liable to fine. Interestingly,

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on February 26, 1999 CALERI had rights. One of the discussions that submitted a memorandum to the I have had with a friend is about While I worked with Committee on Empowerment of the tenuousness of the binary craftspeople, nobody Women: Appraisal of Laws relating construct of man and woman. If to Women (Criminal Laws) and there was no construct, it would ever asked me whether the subject was Repeal of Section mean that there would be no man 3 377 of the Indian Penal Code . The or woman and then there would be I was a craftsperson, but intervening years have seen the media no identities that we could use to suddenly when working become supportive and there are define our desires because then we many more queer images in public would just be people who desired on lesbian issues I had spaces. In 2008, India saw Pride other people! What would that do become partisan and one Parades in four major cities and I was the world of identity politics? If the fortunate to be part of two of those. binary construct did not exist then of them and therefore The sense of exhilaration and joy was there would be no differentiation militant and so on… palpable in the two cities that I was based on gender and then we would present. The very streets, which can once again be set free from labels of be threatening to people who do not any sort. conform to gender identity or desire as defined by society were now being occupied by them Similarly, our worldview precludes all those who do not legally and the police was safeguarding their interests! have able bodies. A disability activist once named us those of the ‘temporarily abled bodies’. That has really made me It has been a long journey and a fun one. The last ten years reflect on what are the ways in which we address sexuality has seen me active in an organization working on issues of and disability, and, do we really do so in any meaningful sexuality and sexual rights and I have facilitated innumerable manner? Do we understand the desire for a sexual partner trainings on these issues across countries, cultures, ages, from someone who has a motor nerve disorder, or someone ethnicities, religion, disability, sexual orientation and who has spina bifida and is on a wheel chair or someone race. I have learnt immensely and equally have unlearnt who is mentally challenged and unable to explain to us what immensely from the work that I have been doing. It’s she feels except that she repeatedly says she wants to get been challenging too, doing this work. While I can see the married? Do we realize that we may become that disabled palpable differences in the world that I now occupy, I also body? The world of disability studies or Crip Theory has a see the same processes happening yet again for a newer set lot that we have to learn from. of people who have to learn afresh. In 1983, I found myself having to explain to people that masturbation was not a Technology has advanced rapidly and we now have to deal sin and was not wrong and in 2009 I find that I still need with the fact that people form intimate relationships on the to say it. I think I will have to repeat until my dying day Internet and that chat spaces have proliferated and there are that homosexuality is not abnormal and that lesbians are chat rooms for practically every kind of desire and dream. not women who have faced violence at the hands of men. Young adults are able to access information that may or The important change is that I won’t be one of a fringe may not be appropriate to their age. Sexual relationships group saying this. There will be many more who will be have taken on a new meaning in this landscape and we loudly proclaiming this and many other issues relating to are not really equipped to deal with the public nature of sexuality. the Internet. We are also not completely sure about the camera on the mobile phone. There was a safety in public As I said earlier, there are innumerable challenges in the spaces, but now there is no guarantee that someone is not work that is being done in this field of sexuality and sexual photographing your body while you sit down in a mall.

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We are unable to understand the ways in which we allow ourselves to create sexual hierarchies within our worldview and place people and activities within it 4. Often times we pitch the homosexuals against the heterosexuals and the abled against the disabled. Sexual acts, which result in reproduction, are valued higher than those which do not. Violence and victim narratives are listened to more often than stories of pleasure 5 and identity. Are we able to understand that people have sex or do not have sex for various reasons? That desire and lust are good enough, that people may exchange money for sex, that people may be in multiple relationships, that identities are transient and sexuality fluid?

References:

I think I will have to repeat until my dying day that homosexuality is not abnormal and that lesbians are not women who have faced violence at the hands of men. The important change is that I won’t be one of a fringe group saying this. There will be many more who will be loudly proclaiming this and many other issues relating to sexuality.

1 Fernandez B, Radhakrishnan M, Deb P. 2007 Report on a Lesbian Meeting, National Conference on Women’s Movement in India, Tirupati, 1994, in Nivedita Menon (Ed) Sexualities, New Delhi: Women Unlimited 2 Cited in Lesbian Emergence: Campaign for Lesbian Rights. 1999. A Citizen’s Report, New Delhi 3 Memorandum in Lesbian Emergence: Campaign for Lesbian Rights. 1999. A Citizen’s Report, New Delhi 4 Rubin G. 1984. Thinking Sex: Notes For a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality in Carole S. Vance (Ed) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

I continue to do the work that I do because although some bits of the world have changed, there is a lot more of the rainbow that I want to grasp and share with people. I want to be able to live in a world where I do not sit in judgment of others; where I can recognize consent and consensual relationships even though they may clash with my world view and I can learn that not everything can be best described as black and white, but also as grey, light grey, dark grey and many other permutations. And I do what I do since I believe that change has happened in my lifetime in the world of sexuality and that I still have to learn and challenge myself and others if I want to move anywhere closer to the ideal that we can create.

5 Vance, C. 1984. Pleasure and Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality in Carole S. Vance (Ed) Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Pramada Menon is a queer activist and an independent consultant working on issues of sexuality, sexual rights, gender, violence against women and organizational development and change. She has spent the last two decades of her professional life questioning, challenging, and seeking answers to questions of women’s human rights. She would like to develop new ways of learning and teaching and is currently exploring ways in which humour can be injected into the world of social change through her stand up performance Fat, Feminist and Free. Contact her at pramadam@gmail.com

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reel review

the lightning testimonies

SYnoPSIS Why is one image different from the other? Why does an image seem to contain many secrets? What can release them so as to suddenly connect with many unknown lives. The Lightning Testimonies reflects upon a history of conflict in the Indian subcontinent through experiences of sexual violence. as the film explores this violence, there emerge multiple submerged narratives, sometimes in people, images and memories, and at other times in objects from nature and everyday life that stand as silent but surviving witnesses. In all narratives the body becomes central - as a site for honour, hatred and humiliation and also for dignity and protest. as the stories unfold, women from different times and regions come forward. The film speaks to them directly, trying to understand how such violence is resisted, remembered and recorded by individuals and communities. narratives hidden within a blue window or the weave of a cloth appear, disappear and are then reborn in another vocabulary at another time. using a range of visual vocabularies the film moves beyond suffering into a space of quiet contemplation, where resilience creates a potential for transformation.

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reel review

a review of The lIghTnIng TeSTIMonIeS / Roshan Bayan amar kanwar / India / 113 minutes / 2007

aanchal kaPur
Can words express what images accomplish? Can images help comprehend what actually happened? Can silence be heard, You have to see The Lightning Testimonies to know that the answers are in the affirmative. Ever since I have seen this documentary in 2008, I have wanted to see and show it again and again. Created and directed by Delhi-based filmmaker, Amar Kanwar, The Lightning Testimonies is not only superb in technique and cinematic style, but also in the interplay of its text and sub-text. A film that I would put at par with or perhaps even above another favourite film, Khamosh Pani… this is a must watch! From the strokes on the canvas to the bareness of the body, from beneath the surface and above it, from the shadows of silence to the screams behind the walls…this is about the testimonies of violence that is ‘herstory’. A 2007 production, the film will take you on a journey of sexual violence that’s experienced by women over different time lines, different locations, converging on the crossroads again and again This film is prose amidst poetry. A juxtaposition of the individual voice with that of the attacker; of the onlooker

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with that of the protector…a myriad colours that paint the body, in life and death. A continuum of images and sounds that analyses sexual violence across the constructs of nation, region, religion, caste, tribe, power, community, and law and justice. A film that pushes the viewer in me to make the connections that often, are not made, so that the responses can be sharper, yet subtle, in the face of such violence. For the 113 minutes watching this documentary, I, the viewer, am forced to ask certain important questions through the lived experiences of several known and unknown women and girls across the Indian sub-continent: How do we define a woman’s body? What is hidden, what should be hidden? What is safe? Traversing borders, external and internal, the film speaks of war and conflict, of patriarchy and power, of caste and land, of religion and boundaries…frames within frames that partition women’s bodies. The filmmaker tells us that there is no chronology to violence and yet there is, in the history that presents itself before us… How does one remember? What remains and what gets submerged? ...these words appear in the film time and again, to build the analysis that the filmmaker unfolds in verse, voice and visual.

1947. The voice of a woman who lived the experience of partition is heard… “I used to love life I wanted to live But I saw death staring at my face…” Several thousands of women were abducted and disappeared, to be ‘rescued’ on both sides of the border. The rescue and restoration operations were undertaken at a very large scale. As the camera searches for the ‘rescued woman’ in the remains of a camp, it’s the same place, the same time, as if standstill, lying dead with the memories of 61 years ago. I (the viewer) ask, does she want to be found, does she want to go back? I learn that there was no room for ‘consent’ in the rescue process, there was no ‘space’ for independent decisions, the respective countries decided where she would live. I close my eyes and open them to see… Moving trains, women and men fleeing amidst darkness and dawn, silence and ‘lightning’, rape, killing, abduction, disappearance for family honour and religion. Is (was) this Nationhood? Is (was) this Freedom?

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reel review

1971. Another voice relives the memory of another partition… “My head still reels when I speak of this They set fire to the house The scene left behind is indescribable Not a soul stirred anywhere…” Several thousands of women were raped by soldiers from the other side, the attackers and victims belonging to the same religion. These are testimonies that make you remember the past and mark the present so that in the future liberation will not be traded for violence as it was in Bangladesh, 37 years ago. I read the postcard in the film, from a father who asks whether his abducted daughter, who came back a day after independence, could be rehabilitated by the government as a Veerangana, the brave woman. I ask myself. . . Do the reflections on the streets, stains in the courtyards, clothes on the terrace, photos in the museum, speak of ‘hung lives’…Will they ever understand what it means to perpetrate such violence? 1989. Several names appear to disappear on the screen, women and girls...counting...recounting…unending numbers, in one of the most militarised parts of the world, Kashmir.

Two decades of violence, countless dead, more than a million displaced, several thousand missing, and never ending sexual attacks on women and girls. Through the anonymous data of the statistics the film maker asks: Does the truth need a memorial image? Who is The Attacker I wonder? The man who holds the gun? Does it matter that he is an army man or a militant? I see how sexual violence is an easy weapon of war and conflict. From the doors and windows that open into a valley, it seems that there are no exits. 2002. They came in large numbers, armed mobs who attacked and killed a people of one faith across cities, towns and villages of Gujarat, women and girls were raped. They came in full view of everyone, perpetuating hatred and genocide…to avenge the death of members of a ‘majority faith’. I witness the carnage. The differences between the filmmaker, the women and me begin to blur, I become part of the story as I hear this testimony…She was pregnant, she was the witness, she told the police, she was not heard, she went to court. It took her five long years, to prove that she was raped. The adivasis (tribals) who lived near the place where she hid that night cannot forget her, they have built a shrine on that hill...the film passes across that site and life continues.

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I think again to myself… Is this the ‘prophecy of silence’? 2006. The filmmaker reveals to me, multiple identities, of caste, tribe, age, occupation, community and position. A scheduled caste woman, a dalit woman, a young adivasi woman, a woman from the barber community, a woman panch (elected official), from across rural Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh…all paraded naked before their families and communities. Sexually violated for resisting injustice and hierarchy for questioning territory and ownership for challenging patriarchy for accessing what’s rightfully theirs their land their resources their equal place in society 1947, 1957, 1971, 1986, 1998, 2004. They stare at me, from Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur,. They urge me to tell their story to the world… let it be told on behalf of all who have not yet spoken. She was paraded naked towards the church, in 1957... she was fighting for a Naga nation. The military came and set

up camp…the orange tree lived to share the testimony of 1971, of women and girls paraded naked at the church. In 1986, a soldier came to take another ‘body’, she did not agree, he beat, shot and killed her, in Manipur. Through the film, I am introduced to her mother who filed a case in court…it took four years to get justice. She hasn’t forgotten, she still grieves. Her friend has woven the story into a sarong in motifs that symbolise protest, the journey of people going from one court to another. Everyone wears it commonly now, to remember her. As the film reflects on the state and its paraphernalia, the state’s various laws and security procedures, I wonder who they really protect, in the North East or in Kashmir. Who is the enemy where ‘land’ is the context and where social and religious practices ‘govern’? I ask myself who is the enemy? Who determines justice? The film begins to go deeper into the body and I can see some ‘lightning’ testimonies once more. The images are now transforming. A woman disrobes as ‘Draupadi’ in a play and everyone reacts against her, questions her chastity, her womanhood, her self-respect. A creative expression in theatre I think or really a breach in dignity? And then, I am made witness to the protests in which 12 imas (mothers) disrobed at Kangla Fort. I now become the

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reel review

woman in the story…merging voices in the film speak in the same tone. Weaving the testimonies of pain and resistance together, I can see the same images in different locations or is it the same location and different images? The film ends, but my journey with it continues…I try and seek answers to the film verse that has gone alongside, especially as it now presents itself in these words… How does one tell which image represents the ever changing words of a testimony? How does one remember? What remains and what gets submerged? The words of the filmmaker again help me out… Does the rain remind you of the camps on both sides of the border? I hope it does, so that you don’t forget what does not remain and what emerges…Perhaps because of its hues, its subtleties, its canvas of expressions, the light amidst darkness, the darkness within The Lightning Testimonies, it’s not easy to forget what you don’t see in this film
Aanchal Kapur has been working in the field of development and human rights for the past 18 years. She is a facilitator and trainer on organizational development, gender analysis and programming, social analysis and activism, as well as documentation and development communication. aanchal is the Founder and Team leader of a not-for-profit organization, kRITI: a development research, praxis and communication team. She may be contacted at aanchal_ kapur@hotmail.com

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hot off the press

Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era Women unlimiteD anD the Boston Women’s health Book collective 2008, rs. 450/-

raDhika chanDiramani
Here it is, the new OBOS, on my desk, calling me to open it and dive in. OBOS? Yes, Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book that was first written by a group of women in 1970 for other women. It was the result of 12 women regularly meeting around their kitchen tables to discuss their bodies, health, and sexuality as a result of being fed up of being paternalised, spoken down to and treated as morons by doctors and by men. Since then, it has gone on to become a classic and has been published in 29 editions in different languages around the world. It has touched thousands of women’s lives, be they lone individuals or groups of social activists. It helped create a women’s health movement and changed the way that many people think about health care. So it is not surprising that thirteen years ago, on my first trip abroad, OBOS was on my ‘important books to buy’ list. I can clearly recall the excitement of reading it, the joy of knowing that everything (well almost everything) that I wanted to know about women’s health, sexuality and well-being was there between its covers, and the wonder of experiencing the ‘voice’ of the book. The book spoke clearly to me as an equal. It made me proud of my body and my sexuality, and assuaged my fears (silly ones, but all of us have them!). It was honest, compassionate, at times funny, and at others stern – a bit like a conversation about an Important Matter with a beloved friend. I had never read anything quite like it. Imagine reading that ‘an orgasm can be mild like a hiccup or a sneeze’? That certainly put it in perspective! The bottom line message of OBOS is that our bodies are our own. The body you have is the only one you have got. The book offers a wealth of easyto-understand accurate information on how our bodies work, what makes them sick, what to do to feel better, and importantly, how all of this plays out in the larger context of the politics of health and of sexism. In keeping with its feminist underpinnings, this latest updated 2008 special edition for South Asia, retains the spirit and much of the content of the earlier editions and begins with, ‘For women, life can often seem like a beauty pageant’, going on to say ‘Being born female automatically

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hot off the press
makes us contestants, whether we like it or not.’ From Brazilian bikini waxing to hysterectomies, it’s all about how we make decisions about what to keep and what to rid ourselves of. We can describe facts about our bodies and our experiences, but each of us experiences these in different ways, and that is fine. OBOS affirms and celebrates these differences. Literally hundreds of people (including men) have contributed to this book, sharing their own experiences and stories. It is an especially important book for us in this region. In countries where matters of sexuality are not openly spoken about, many young women do not know that the vagina is different from the urinary opening or that they possess a clitoris. If you are one of them, using this book, you can take a self-guided tour of your sexual anatomy and make friends with hitherto unexplored parts of your body. Women who are not aware of the lines between an act of consent and one of abuse, will find a friend who patiently defines these along with providing markers of what to look out for in a relationship. For those worrying about ageing, please note that sexual well-being definitely does not end at menopause, and there’s a lot to look forward to. For women with disabilities, there is useful information integrated right through the book. There is something for each of us – the woman who wants a baby but can’t conceive, the woman who doesn’t want one, the woman who might have just lost one, the older parent coping with the fact that her kids are too busy dealing with their own lives to pay too much attention to her needs, the lesbian trying to build supportive relationships, the woman dealing with the possible loss of a breast or her uterus – we’re all in the book. Because sexuality is one of the ways in which women’s lives are controlled, the book gives it a lot of attention, teaching us not only to love our body but also how to make love to it. Refreshingly, however, it does not follow the mantra of ‘the more the better’. In fact, it even advises, ‘If masturbating doesn’t bring you pleasure, trust your own preferences and don’t do it’. Nowhere does the book degenerate into a series of prescriptions. OBOS has sections on a range of issues: Taking Care of Ourselves, Relationships and Sexuality, Reproductive Choices, Childbearing, Growing Older, Medical Problems and Procedures, and, Knowledge is Power. The book includes material relevant to the realities of women in South Asia. Don’t be daunted by its size. At around 800 pages it is a hefty tome, but remember you don’t have to read all of it at once. Dip into it as you like – each section can stand alone and you don’t have to proceed in a linear manner. Another advantage is that there is an accompanying website that you can go to for additional information on specific topics that interest you. The clean white pages of the latest OBOS smile at me. The older OBOS is yellowing, its pages are brittle, but it still has a ‘most loved books’ smell and will always be cherished. Thirteen years ago, I bought it in London for 17 pounds, a fortune well spent. Now, you can get your copy in India for a special price of Rs 450/- Buy it for yourself, your partner (regardless of gender), your teenaged daughter, your mum, your granddaughter. Each will thank you for it. The publishers of this special South Asia edition hope that by making women readers of this book into well-informed health consumers, they will become catalysts for social change. There is every likelihood of that happening. This is one of those books that even if it doesn’t change your life (though it well might), will definitely change the way you look at your body and yourself. An earlier version of this article appeared in The Tribune, November 9, 2008

Radhika Chandiramani, a clinical psychologist, is the executive director of TaRShI. her most recent publication is Good Times for Everyone: Sexuality Questions, Feminist Answers.

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policy alert

Updates on the

Philippines Reproductive Health Bill

Birth control is not an option for women in the Philippines. Studies in the Philippines show that • 10 Filipino women die daily due to pregnancy and childbirth complications Three out of four of these women who die are aged 15-19 years old Internationally, 99% of all women who die from such causes come from developing countries.

The bill aims to empower couples with the information and opportunity to plan and space their children. This will not only strengthen the family as a unit but also optimize care for children who will have more opportunities to be educated, healthy and productive 1. According to Lagman, the bill covers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Information and access to natural and modern family planning Maternal, infant and child health and nutrition Promotion of breast feeding Prevention of abortion and management of postabortion complications Adolescent and youth health Prevention and management of reproductive tract infections, HIV/AIDS and STDs Elimination of violence against women Counseling on sexuality and sexual and reproductive health Treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers

Despite this situation there are no effective measures to make birth control available to people in the Philippines. National funds are not used to buy condoms or pills, and, although local governments are technically free to buy them, many like the City of Manila will not. For years, international organizations filled the void. But that changed as USAID and other international organizations phased out their contraception programs. It might well change again with the recent changes in US policy. Every year, a group of bold legislators led by Albay province’s Rep. Edcel Lagman proposes the Reproductive Health and Population Development Act to promote reproductive health and access to modern methods of contraception and each year it fails to pass because of fierce lobbying from conservative Catholics.

10 Male involvement and participation in reproductive health (RH)

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policy alert

11 Prevention and treatment of infertility and 12 RH education for the youth. The opposition to the bill comes from the Government and church leaders who frame any discussion on reproductive health and rights in religious terms, as a battle either for or against human life. RH is more often than not, construed as abortion by them and they contend that any discussion on reproductive health including family planning will cultivate an ‘anti-life’ mentality that will eventually lead to an acceptance and even legalization of abortion. In a statement, the Pro-Life Caucus has also said that the proponents of RH were silent on the adverse effects of contraceptives. In lieu of modern contraception which the church considers as against its principles, the government and church authorities promote what they call ‘natural’ family planning. Women are advised to purchase a thermometer, monitor their cycle, and abstain from sex on all but their least-fertile days. As a consequence the country’s population is growing at a rate of about 2.3% per year and poor families are growing fastest. The Government therefore needs to take adequate measures (not limited to wage increases, tax breaks and food subsidies) to meet the needs of the people.

Advocates for the bill, however, maintain there is nothing anti-Filipino about birth control. Supporters of the bill represent multi-sectoral groups including church members who recognize the significance of the bill for the overall reproductive health of women. Information and services on reproductive health are needed to enable people to make informed and intelligent decisions that will: save women’s lives, facilitate having children that parents can provide for, prepare the youth to handle responsibilities that go with having relationships, and empower men to realize and use the various options available to them in planning their families. They further contend that the bill if brought into execution will lower the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore the rate of abortion by as much as 85%. As shown by the 2004 Pulse Asia survey: • 86% of respondents support candidates with programs for women’s health 82% support candidates who are in favor of couples’ free choice of family planning methods 82% consider candidates supportive of a law on population as worthy of their votes 83% favor candidates who support allocating funds for family planning.

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policy alert
Filipino teens get a higher exposure to sex from the media including the internet, magazines, TV shows, movies etc than decades ago and yet there is no corresponding increase in knowledge and skills on how to handle the information from the media. Information on sexuality and options for contraception must be made available to people in general, and young people in particular, as peer pressure and lack of information often leads to teen pregnancies which entail risks of inadequate pre-natal care, risk of abortion and fetal deaths as well as risk of acquiring cervical cancer. Although abortion is illegal in the Philippines, there is a high rate of abortions which are backdoor, unreliable, and therefore, risky. An increasing number of local government units are also stepping up to address this need as evidenced by the passage of RH ordinances in Aurora province, Sulu, Olongapo, and Quezon City to name a few. Moreover, there are units that are presently processing their own RH ordinances. The Commission on Population and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, (which maintains community health care clinics that provide reproductive health services, including legal and medically-safe family planning methods and maternal and child care services) has also urged members of the media to increase its stake in reproductive health and responsible parenthood advocacy following an increase in population. Besides the national legislature, RH bills have been proposed by several local governments, and several have passed, starting with pioneers like Aurora province and, most recently, Quezon City. That last bill’s passage was particularly tumultuous, with camps for and against it aware that Quezon City is the country’s largest city and a trend-setter. In the House of Representatives, the reproductive health bill has been endorsed by four committees, namely the Committee on Health, the Committee on Population and Family Relations, the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Rules. As of November 2008, it already had 111 authors. It has also been endorsed by 11 government agencies such as the Departments of Health, Social Welfare & Development, Education, and Interior and Local Government, the National Economic Development Authority, and the Commission on Higher Education, among others. However, it is facing staunch opposition from at least 75 members in the House and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The bill’s authors have written to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, asking for a dialogue. Position papers in support of the bill have been written as well, notably from professors of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, the Ateneo De Manila University, and 140 Student Councils around the country. The struggle for the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill in Congress goes on. The Reproductive Health Advocacy Network had also initiated an online petition to gather one million signatures to show solidarity and support for the campaign to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The petition is available at: http://www.PetitionOnline. com/rhan2008/petition.html.

1

The full text of the bill is available at http://jlp-law.com/ blog/full-text-of-house-bill-no-5043-reproductive-healthand-population-development-act-of-2008/

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‘I’ column

... on how sexual rights affect one personally, and how they are affirmed and/or violated in one’s local cultural setting.

Dinesh guPta

As physically challenged people, it is the socio-economic hurdles that we face, that deter us the most. The ‘noble’ or ‘good-hearted’ people in society usually have a so-called nicer approach towards us – they treat us ‘with sympathy’. What we are looking for is not sympathy, but empathy. Although there is a growing realization on the part of the government as well as civil society that people with disabilities need equal opportunities, there are certain issues which I feel need to be addressed on a social platform rather than in the parliament. We are able to achieve some extent of social participation and success with our determination and courage, and we start analyzing everything – from our ideas of success to the determination that makes our stories an ‘achievement’. There are problems that seriously work against our courage and patience. For example, the fact that people with disabilities are not considered sexual although we also have sexual desires and fantasies like any other human being.When children enter adulthood, they acquire a sense of sexual self, in the process of growing up. In a similar way, people with disabilities also develop a sense of their sexual self and their bodies. After all it is a normal part of growing up. However, in India, young people are hardly ever encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings related to sexuality. My desire for sexual intimacy may sound weird to many people but this is my reality. I do not want to live only with

I

am a person with cerebral palsy. There are more than 17 million people in the world who are referred to as ‘physically handicapped’. Personally, I prefer the term ‘physically challenged’.

my parents throughout my life. I want to be independent and also desire a special person to share the joys and sorrows of my life with, or talk about the mental asylum in our minds that is often created from stress and ‘physical’ fatigue. I would like to get married and have a sexual life, but my parents do not feel that I should get married. I have tried to bring it up with them, but they are very resistant to the idea. Sexual relationships outside of marriage are still taboo in our society. And, even if they were okay, there are very few social spaces for people with disabilities to meet and have intimate relationships. How do I then seek sexual satisfaction? Because of cerebral palsy, I find it difficult to sexually stimulate myself. I have often considered using sexual aids. However, in India, we do not have easy access to them and even if they may be available, my limited mobility makes it even more difficult to access them. My brother travels abroad sometimes, and I have often wondered if I could ask him to get me such an aid, but I also wonder what he would think about me, if I do so. Can I go to a sex worker to seek sexual services? I have considered that as well. But, I am unsure if a sex worker would treat me well and with sensitivity. What do I do? As any other human being, I too have the need for physical and mental pleasure, but there is always a denial of the sexuality of physically challenged people. The situation is frustrating and I wish for a change in the future. .
Dinesh Gupta is the Chairman and Founder of Friends organisation, a Trust that works towards self-dependence of people with disabilities and their integration into society. he may be contacted at friendshipclub_4u@yahoo.co.in

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did you know

what after
Pregnancy is a matter of joy for many women. It is even more joyful when it has been planned, keeping in mind the health of both partners, their career goals, economic stability etc. Pregnancy is often smoother when people are aware of what it entails. Before planning a pregnancy, a woman should check for her fertility period, get necessary vaccinations and tests (Measles, HIV, Hepatitis B, Syphilis, RH Incompatibility and Rubella) and evaluate risks after taking detailed family history for hereditary diseases such as thalassaemia and haemophilia.There is higher risk of contracting a congenital disease if the previous baby or any other family member already has it and if the woman is older than 35 years. A woman can check for pregnancy with a home pregnancy test kit, which is easily available in the market. If the test is positive, confirm it with a general physician. It is fairly common for a pregnant woman to experience all/ some/ none of symptoms such as these: vomiting, nausea, aversion or cravings for particular foods, mood swings and irritability, fatigue, dizziness, breast tenderness, increase in vaginal discharge and frequent urination. They may not happen simultaneously but may be spread across the length of the pregnancy. There is no reason to worry. It is also possible that many of these symptoms may not occur. Pregnancy is a time for a woman to be more in sync with her body. It is important to have a nutritious and balanced diet. Remember, it is not just about the baby, the pregnant woman’s health is equally important! It is important for the woman to maintain correct posture and protect the feet and joints, wear comfortable shoes and clothes, rest with the feet up, and continue antenatal exercises. It may be a good idea to rest as much as possible and avoid standing for too long and rest the legs. Walking and exercising are considered healthy, and advised for an easier delivery process, unless prohibited by the doctor for health reasons. It is also better to stay away from alcohol, smoking and drugs during pregnancy. Prenatal visits to the doctor are recommended every 4-6 weeks in the first trimester. Routine blood tests during the first trimester may be done to check for anaemia and immunity to rubella as these can be treated during the course of the pregnancy. It is also recommended to do an HIV test even if the woman is at low risk because detection and treatment of HIV during pregnancy can prevent transmission of the virus to the child. An ultrasound is taken at around 18-20 weeks to check and confirm a due date of delivery, check for twins or multiples and general check-up. Around the 24th to 28th week a diabetes test is also administered to identify women who are at a higher risk of having a special form of diabetes called gestational diabetes which develops in some women during pregnancy. Between the 35th and 37th week, a prenatal Group B Streptococcus (GBS) test is done to detect a bacterium

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did you know

pregnancy?
group called group B in the vagina, urinary opening or rectum, which if present can infect the baby at birth. In case the test is positive, the woman is given antibiotics when she is in labour. One common question that is frequently asked on the TARSHI helpline is whether it is advisable to have intercourse during pregnancy. Penile-vaginal intercourse is sometimes not advisable in the first three and the last two months of a pregnancy as the foetus maybe dislodged in the uterus. However, pleasure can be given and received through other activities like massaging and touching. The couple can try out different positions as the pregnancy proceeds to see what the pregnant woman is comfortable with, in consultation with her doctor. It is important for any sexual activity to be consensual. Unless there are clear instructions from the doctor to abstain, as in the case of a difficult pregnancy, there is no reason why a woman cannot be sexually active throughout her pregnancy. Activities like mutual masturbation and oral sex may be engaged in until the end of term. A woman has the right to know about all screening and diagnostic tests that may be advised. If the tests indicate the existence of a particular impairment of the foetus, she has the right to terminate the pregnancy within a safe period. However, please keep in mind that all impairments are not disabling. It is important for a woman to be well informed about drugs, tests and treatments. She has a right to receive information about the pregnancy and the qualifications of those involved in her health care. She has a right to receive all care in privacy, accept or refuse procedures, drugs, tests etc, choose another caregiver in case she is dissatisfied with the present one, be informed about whether she has been enrolled for a research study and have unrestricted access to all records about her pregnancy. If a woman is pregnant in her late thirties and forties, she may be treated as at high-risk. There is a higher risk of having a baby with Down’s syndrome and there may be other age related conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, but with due care and support many older women can stay healthy during pregnancy and childbirth. Women with chronic illness or disabilities also have the right to make choices as women without disabilities. Pregnancy is not a disease, although it may be a difficult process for some women. There are many books, websites and videos that provide information about pregnancy. However, they may differ in accuracy and it is important to refer to information that is positive and affirmative of women and pregnancy. Useful Websites: www.about.com, www.gynob.com, www.innerbody.com, www.kidshealth.org, www.maternitywise.org, www.motherfriendly.org, www.1to9months.com, www.tarshi.net
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At the Resource Centre

Read In Plainspeak Online
Every publication of In Plainspeak is available to download in PDF and in HTML format on our website – www. asiasrc.org. To receive a hard copy of In Plainspeak, send your mailing address to resourcecentre@tarshi.net.

In Plainspeak is calling for images on sexuality for inclusion in the magazine. Poetry is also welcome. Submissions should be sent to resourcecentre@tarshi.net.

Browse our website at
www.asiasrc.org The website contains information about Resource Centre programmes, a database of library materials, links to organisational and electronic resources throughout the region, journals, news articles and announcements. You can join our mailing list through the website.

Contribute to In Plainspeak
Calling all Writers! We want your ideas and stories! We are inviting submissions for the next issues of In Plainspeak. Please indicate which section of the magazine you think your article best fits. Send in your articles to resourcecentre@tarshi.net. Remember we use genderneutral and non-judgmental language. To write for the I column, please begin your first sentence with ‘ I…’. Calling all Artists! We hope to showcase a diverse range of images throughout the magazine in each issue.

Visit the Resource Centre Library The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality library hosts a collection of classic and contemporary books on sexuality, fiction, newsletters, CDROMs, newsletters, organisational material, electronic files, conference papers, journals and other periodicals, on sexuality, reproductive health, and rights. The library is open to use by professionals working in the field, NGOs, academics, researchers, and students. The library page is hosted on the Resource Centre website (www.tarshi.net). Users can access web links to many useful journals, and browse the library catalogue for information on materials in the library Library Hours: Monday to Thursday, 1:30 to 5:00 pm. Telephone: 91-11- 65642624 Give us Your Feedback!
What did you think of this issue of In Plainspeak? We welcome your comments, suggestions, and ideas. Please send your feedback to resourcecentre@tarshi.net. We look forward to hearing from you!

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TARSHI

The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality is hosted at TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues). TARSHI believes that all people have the right to sexual well being and to a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality. TARSHI works towards expanding sexual and reproductive choices in people’s lives in an effort to enable them to enjoy lives of dignity, freedom from fear, infection and reproductive and sexual health problems. It was founded in 1996 and registered under the Societies Registration Act in 1997. TARSHI runs a phone helpline, conducts trainings and institutes, develops publications, participates in public awareness and education initiatives, and provides technical support to advocacy initiatives. For more information, please visit www.tarshi.net

Contact Us The South and Southeast Asia Resource Centre on Sexuality

TARSHI
11 Mathura Road, First Floor Jangpura B, New Delhi, 110014, India. Phone: 91-11-24379070, 24379071 Fax: 91-11-24374022 Email: resourcecentre@tarshi.net Website: www.tarshi.net

edIToRIal TeaM: Radhika Chandiramani, arpita das

in plainspeak

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in plainspeak

· ISSue 1 · ‘09 ·

50