Women's Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) Nepal has been working on women's health at the community level since last 18 years. During our course of work, we experienced that violence against women was continuously practiced in the community despite the rhetoric, nationally and internationally, that violence against women is the violation of women's right. The widespread women's health problem such as prolapsed uterus, white discharge, anemia and other cases related to malnutrition of women is an indicator of violence against women. Those health problems, mostly in the countryside, are not only because women have limited access to health care centers, but also due to the fact that majority of the women do not identify it as a health problem. In most of the cases, they used to see health problems like prolapsed uterus as a part of bodily changes with time as they could see women in their community and even their mothers living with such problems. Very few who identify it as a problem could not step outside their home due to the social taboo that prohibits women to discuss about their sexuality and reproductive health problem. Even if one dares to step out from home risking their life and security can't get service they need.
This can be demonstrated by following case which WOREC experienced in course of her work. "In a health camp in countryside Dr. Renu met with a women of 56-57 years of age with complain of backache and white discharge. She was afraid even to talk with the doctor as she turned up late at the camp. She was requested to lie down for check up. Smelly discharge, very dirty body parts and extremely dirty sari which she was wearing forced the doctor to ask why she was in such a situation. Her answer was disheartening. According to her, she was not allowed to take bath in public tap because of her smelly discharge even by the women in the village. She had to allow other women to fill their water tanks for drinking purpose before she takes bath. Shocked with her reply, Dr. Renu proceeded with the internal inspection which was even more shocking. Dr. Renu felt some resistance in side her vagaina, however, she dared to pull that out and after that the scene was unimaginable. Her whole uterus (prolapsed part) came out with fountain of smelly dark yellowish watery discharge and the element which obstructed her passage was piece of a rubber slipper. That lady had inserted it inside her vagina with a hope to get ease for walking as that kept her uterus inside. She further shared her story where she was discriminated against all members of society; she mentioned that she was married at the age of 12; had her first child at 15 and her uterus prolapsed after the birth of her third child at the age of 20. She had neither attended any health personnel nor received any information about her health. Five years later her husband abandoned her with 5 Children and married another lady. After that along with the worsening condition of her health the difficulties of her life began. She went to see several local health institution for treatment but all denied saying they don't have medicines for WOMEN'S DISEASE. This case changed WOREC's working direction and since then WOREC has incorporated Women's health program from women's perspective taking guidance by book such as Our Body Our Selves (OBOS) and adopted concept of barefoot gynecologist in her program and training. The training continued and created pool of barefoot gynecologist at community level. Feminist friends like Sabala and Kranti from India supported the training.
The journey of women's health then began as a movement. It was very difficult at the beginning as this challenged social norms and practices and provided skill to community women to look at their body, collect their experiences, explore their sexuality and strengthen each others skill to take care of their own. This journey demanded more systematic information's in the form of booklets which can be shared with others and can be used as tool to train thousands and get shared with thousands of women. In this journey, we were lucky to meet OBOS teams specially Sally in Canada during women's health meeting. This meeting was the perfect match to find a source of information that we required to strengthen our movement. Feminist bond got strengthened and OBOS gave permission for adoption of the book in the form of booklets.
Thus, we adopted Our Body Ourselves, developed by Boston Women's Health Collective to the needs of Nepalese women. It incorporates information and sharing collected from the discussion with women belonging to different communities, groups, and sectors. Divided into 6 booklets, it provides information on factors that has affected women's health, directly or indirectly, in their everyday life. After an in depth discussion with the women from all walks of life, it has come to our knowledge that certain factors that affects women's health are under our control and by using effective mechanism we can improve our health, while the factors like socio-economic and political policies, cultural values and foreign policies are not under our control and these are the vital ones that have not only affected our health but also the health policies.
The 6 booklets are:
Similarly, the booklets include information on how we can have control over our own body using our skills and knowledge. Further, we have also tried to incorporate information regarding the national health policy, the health service mechanism available in the country, government polices and programs. We believe that with these information women of all the communities will be able to acquire information regarding the places where they could obtain health service.Besides above information, we have also included information regarding the state policies that have negative impact on our heath; how our health rights have been violated and what can be done to improve our health. We are confident that these booklets will add momentum to women's health movement of Nepal which has gained a lot from its start. At this moment in Nepal everyone talks on Women's health prolapsed uterus and on sexuality the discussion has began although that requires more strength to grow. This journey has achieved its goal to some extent but it was not very smooth and still there are many ups and downs. Beside logistic difficulties, the transitional phase of our country, Nepal, had made adaptation process very slow but at the same time very meaningful also. WOREC believes that democracy is bottom line for any person to demand for their rights, thus, WOREC has been very much involved in political transformation process of the country in some areas. Health trainings also served as tool to organize women for democracy.
Beside the overwhelming response from women, rich life stories made us sometime emotional and difficult to put together. Talking about sexuality was very difficult not among women but among those who were quite closely observing the process. Several times the collective responsible to produce the booklets were labeled as characterless women who are making other women characterless. Nevertheless, the collective took this as learning and strengthening sisterhood exercise and took their step forward. WOREC as an institution came forward to publish OBOS booklets in the context of Nepal and different women groups and institutions took role to disseminate. Now, there is demand for a radio program based on these booklets from different communities to which we are optimist that we can do it soon. The adaptation process could establish clear link of women from grassroots with national and international feminist movement and built the sense of solidarity and sisterhood. Thus, we can say that the journey of adaptation of the booklet has been overwhelming. Thank you everyone for making this happen!