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Blog: Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club Prize

8 Dec 2023

Read about Fatema Dawoodbhoy’s experience of winning the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club Prize in 2021

As stated in the RCOG’s Get Back on Track report “the moral obligation to support women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR): bodily autonomy is the foundation upon which women and girls can exercise their full rights.”

The Arka Initiative is a grassroots organisation working to provide tangible and practical support for SRHR in Sri Lanka. In 2021, my interest in women’s global health motivated me to contact them and enquire about undertaking an elective. I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in Sri Lanka with Arka, using the award money from the Women’s Visiting Gynaecological Club Prize to support the trip. 

During my time there, I worked on the delivery of educational sessions on SRHR across workplaces, schools and communities. I also supported the Adithi Pad project which aims to produce an affordable sanitary pad.

I represented Arka at their partnership projects, visiting local women on tea plantations. The doctor I was paired with to deliver SRHR information translated all the content and questions for me, allowing me to gain a full understanding of the session. I learned a lot about how to design and deliver education programmes and will definitely bring this knowledge to any future sessions I work on.

I also spent a week with the Sri Lankan Family Planning Association (FPA) in Colombo. Many of the people seeking advice spoke English so I was able to take some histories and be involved in the consultations. 

In Sri Lanka, the vast majority of menstruating people don’t use pads or tampons and rely on homemade cloth pads. You might be thinking, isn't that better for the environment? In reality, this is only true of cloth pads if they are used correctly. Because of the stigma around periods, women do not clean their cloth pads properly or have the courage to hang them out to dry. This results in UTIs and work/school disruption.

Many people have also never been taught about the significance of periods and, during the education sessions I attended, most women there were seeing the anatomy of their reproductive system for the first time. Many students do not receive any sex education apart from abstinence-only advice, which then results in an education gap, STIs, unplanned pregnancies and contraception stigma. This all contributes to the poverty cycle. 

In the case of contraception, the hormonal injection is widely used all over Sri Lanka, as it is cost-effective for their local healthcare system. The intrauterine system (IUS) is not as commonly used as the IUD and the combined oral contraceptive pill (COCP) is available only from two brands: a local brand called Mithuri and an American brand called Yasmin (at ten times the cost). 

My time with Arka was invaluable and irreplaceable. I met some incredible women who are trying to change the way women’s healthcare is viewed and delivered in Sri Lanka. I hope to continue my partnership with this organisation in the future and encourage more students to join them on their mission. 

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