MAHARASHTRA: AIDWA’S Workshop on ‘Women and Health’

Prachi Hatiwlekar

LAST month, the Maharashtra AIDWA organised a three-day statewide workshop on ‘Women and Health’ for its main activists. Held in Thane city, it was well attended by 75 leading activists from all over the state. The organisation has been consistently fighting on various issues faced by women like ration, price rise, employment, domestic violence and atrocities. But the health issue which is close to every woman’s heart is rarely addressed by women’s organisations. Considering this fact, the three-day workshop discussed only health issues.

After the introductory remarks by state secretary Sonya Gill, All India vice president Sudha Sundararaman explained the objective of conducting this workshop on an issue that eats up the most expenses of a family, next to food.

The major topic of the workshop ‘Health and illness - a class perspective’ was taken by Dr T Sundararaman, Professor and Dean, School of Health Systems Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The poor succumb most to illness as the causes of most diseases lie in issues related to poverty like malnutrition, lack of potable water, poor living conditions, pollution, addiction etc. This class perspective that to ensure health for all, there was no other alternative than eradicating social and economic inequality from the roots was well placed by him.

The second part of his session was on ‘Strengthening the public health system’. Inadequate investment on health by the government, existing schemes, their poor implementation and action to be taken against this was conveyed by Dr Sundararaman in a simple yet effective way. In any case the public health system takes care only of breakdown in health; for prevention it is the people who need to be more alert. This was well established in this session.

In the interactive part of this session, the rights of patients, especially women patients; lack of facilities at government health centres right from ASHA, Anganwadi, PHC, tehsil and district hospitals to big government hospitals; lack of doctors, medicines, machinery, ambulance etc; tremendous work pressure at these centres, low wages, etc resulting in rude behaviour of staff towards the poor and helpless patients; bureaucracy and secrecy about various health schemes; all these issues were extensively discussed, with participants sharing their experiences as activists as well as victims.

All this inevitably leads to the shift of patients towards private hospitals, which are too expensive and hence unaffordable. This is exactly what the government wants. If people prefer private over public health care, they can further slash the budget on public health, diverting the money to the privileged few. So the only alternative to strengthen the public health service is to create awareness, mobilise people and organise struggles for a more effective public health care system and its implementation. The workshop came to this firm conclusion.

Various other sessions included: ‘Women’s health as women’s right’ by researcher and health activist Medha Kale, ‘Health insurance with reference to Maharashtra’ by Tejal Barai and Sujata Ayrekar, all from SEHAT; and ‘Women and mental health’ by Dr Shubhangi Parkar, Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, KEM Hospital, Mumbai.

All these sessions were very well responded to by participants. It certainly helped them to know more about women’s health issues and how to deal with them. The various sessions were presided over by state AIDWA leaders Rehana Sheikh, Saroja Swami and Tai Bendar.

The last session of the workshop was that of group discussion to develop key slogans, key demands and identify areas/issues for intervention related to women’s health, mobilisation and action. All the participants were divided into groups on various issues such as sanitation, health facilities at work place, urban/rural/adivasi areas etc. The reports of the group discussions and a charter of demands were presented by all group leaders. It will be finalised and submitted to the state government. It was also decided to organise similar workshops at the district level.

State secretary Sonya Gill in her speech promised to finalise our charter of demands and said that the state AIDWA will organise its struggles on this charter. She also reported the decisions of the AIDWA state committee meeting held the previous night. The concluding speech of the workshop was by all India general secretary Mariam Dhawale. She appealed to the participants to raise their voice by maximum mobilisation throughout the state against the privatisation of the health system and its adverse effects on people, especially women, and also called for strengthening the women’s movement and organisation in the state.  

State AIDWA president Naseema Shaikh and Thane-Palghar district president Prachi Hatiwlekar thanked the speakers, participants and all those who helped to make the workshop a success. The Thane-Palghar district committee of AIDWA worked hard to organise this three-day resident workshop by collecting funds in the form of not only money, but also in kind like handful of rice, sugar etc from every poor adivasi households who could afford nothing more, and by planning and executing the whole event very meticulously. 

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