Women’s healthcare in India particularly suffers in poorer areas where women, as proactive as they may be about their physical and mental health, are held back by their reticence to talk about it. Whether it is polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis or even something as small as irregular white discharge, a woman responds with shame at worst and dismissiveness at best. This cultural and gendered refusal to talk about health issues that pertain specifically to their sexuality hinders women’s ability to get what activists in Bihar are calling “Dignified Healthcare”.
Sagarika Singh, director of the Khud Se Pooche initiative, a movement aiming to improve women’s access to dignified healthcare, stated to the Indian Express that women often have an internal fear of being judged if they talk about their healthcare issues out in the open, and in general feel a lack of supportive and conducive space where they can be themselves and speak their mind instead of thinking of themselves entirely through the roles they play in society. This ongoing movement is gathering pace in Bihar as several organizations in Bihar are working to empower women to speak up and create a space for all women to talk freely about their physical and mental health and be able to make independent decisions about their healthcare needs.
Anonymous visual and performance artist Princess Pea, along with more than 15 partner organizations and over 500 women from Bihar, worked to create a powerful symbol for the dignified healthcare movement, unveiled on 22 November.
The symbol, in the form of a 40ft x 9ft textile-based art installation, hangs in the centrally located Sumati Place, Boring Road, Patna and will be on public view till early December. The artwork has been created using the indigenous craft of ‘Applique’, traditionally used to decorate large ceilings in Bihar. The patchwork (or Khatwa) installation creates a narrative of the women’s lives, taking fabrics from their homes and stitching them together with women from across different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.
The symbol of the movement is the safety pin, an every day object women tend to wear around their neck. The pin holds two elements together: “dignity” and “care” creating a safe space where women can express themselves without being judged and without biases. “The safety pin is a symbol of safety. Since childhood the safety pin has always been a companion, hidden in your purse reminding us of repair, care, and confidence. Like a true companion which provides dignity, unity, and protection. We present a symbol as a single voice of women of today who demand dignified health care,” says Princess Pea This symbol has been created through an in-depth engagement and participation model with Princess Pea, through a series of art-based workshops, orientations, skilling sessions on storytelling, community organizing, influencing, social media, using tools such as empathy maps, circle of life, TED talk formats, alternate story building and interpretations of colors and objects. Therefore it very much reflects the empowered voices of the women of Bihar, calling in unison for their sisters to speak up about their health and step into their power of choice where their health is concerned.