The Eastern India Zonal Consultation (Bihar, Jharkand, Orissa and West Bengal)

on 11-12 December 2004 at Calcutta
  Objectives of the Consultation  
  • To share the IWHM agenda, its political context and process with women's groups, NGOs, and other forums so as to get their collaboration in attaining the participation of grassroots communities in this process.
  • To provide a forum for discussion of issues of concern in the eastern region and to facilitate collaboration among women and network on these issues within each state and within the region.
  • To document the process and bring these issues of concern to the 10th IWHM.
  • To identify good, well-researched papers and other forms of expression for presentation at the 10th IWHM.

The OC members had strongly felt that we should reach out to the most neglected and backward States hence we had put in all our efforts to get organizations and women's groups from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal to participate in this zonal consultation. We were happy that 67 participants participated in this Zonal Consultation for the Eastern region. There was active participation and many grassroots people were present bringing with them the health concerns of women in their respective states.


The Consultation enabled different forms of expression, such as paper presentations, testimonies, case studies, a poem and a choreography. A film on adverse effects of uranium mining in Jadhu Goda in Jharkhand could not be screened owing to lack of time. The Consultation was useful in bringing women and groups together to discuss face to face the health and social issues that impact on women's health. It highlighted health concerns of women in the four states and enabled groups to realise the need to coordinate with each other and to work together. As a result, by the end of the second day the consultation identified the important issues that needed urgent attention and they came up with strategies to work on these issues.


The groups introduced themselves state wise which was followed by an introduction of the IWHM and the zonal consultations. The consultation started with an overview of Women's Health Status in India and presentations of Women's Health status in the four States. These papers helped to give a lucid understanding of the women's health status in the eastern region. The presentations revealed that women's health status was closely linked to women's economic and social status. All the presentations pointed out that the root cause of women's poor health status was poverty and gender discrimination. The Consultation felt the need for looking at women's health in a holistic way. It called for an area of concern needing urgent attention - poverty, with the need to encompass not just economic issues but also covering related issues such as Right to food, shelter, work, and easy access to public health care services.


Papers were presented and discussions held on the issue of access (or rather non-access) to public health care services. It was discussed in relation to the social and economic status of women and called for increased government spending on providing quality public health care services which will be sensitive to women's health needs. Right to food and livelihood too drew much animated discussion and an urgent need to include this issue on the women's health agenda was spelt out with a plea for tabling this issue at the 10th IWHM.


Other papers included population policies, disability, mental health, impact of violence on women's health, impact of medical technologies, and adverse effects of development projects on women's health.


Disability issue caused much animated discussions and there was a demand that women's groups and women's health groups pay more heed to this issue and include it in their agenda and also provide space for it at the 10th IWHM. One paper dealt with the sexual and reproductive health rights of physically challenged women.


Discussion on mental health of women focused on problems faced by mentally ill women and their treatment by family and society. Two case studies were presented on this issue with one woman relating her experiences of domestic violence linking it to mental health.


Present Development Model - was another area of grave concern impacting the health of women. These projects often led to displacement of people and loss of livelihood, leading to disabilities, migration and trafficking. The consequences of the development projects were severe health problems both physical and mental, often with women having to bear the brunt of it. Two papers were presented - one was on Uranium mining and exposure to radioactive waste materials in Jharkhand for women who work in the mines and for people who live around the mining area. The exposure to radioactive materials has caused increased miscarriages, birth defects, severe skin infections, thalessamia, cancers and other health problems. Women are dependent on this employment hence they are reluctant to take any action against the mining authorities. No services are given nor any rehabilitation for people who are affected.


Second paper was on Soil erosion of the river Ganges caused by Farakka dam. Flow of life itself gets destroyed for women so how can we talk of their health. People from Mushirabad and Malda districts are displaced and pushed onto an island between Jharkhand and West Bengal a no man's land. This has made women "development refugees" and stateless in their own country. Men from here have migrated to Bombay and Gujarat in search of jobs and women trafficked into Bombay brothels. The main health problem here is Arsenicosis caused because of arsenic pollution of water.


Disasters which affect women's health need addressing. Though natural disasters like floods, cyclones, drought, heat waves regularly affect states like Orissa and West Bengal, governments are yet to have effective disaster management programmes to deal with timely evacuation and rehabilitation.


Violence against women was a subject which drew much discussion. Violence against women perpetuated by society and family had long-lasting effects both on women's physical and mental health. State too played a role in violence against women with the police, the army inflicting further sexual violence and terror.


Another important issue raised was the health status of Dalit women living in abject poverty in Bihar. Their social discrimination has made them powerless to assert their rights. Plagued by diseases such as tuberculosis, kalahazar, and leprosy, and with little access to public health care services, the Dalit women are forced to spend their meagre income on treatment at private clinics, leading to increased indebtedness and bonded labour.


The sexual and reproductive health rights of women was discussed to some extent with presentation of three papers, one on sexual and reproductive health right of women with disabilities. The other papers took up the MTP Act and the issue of safe abortion from a user and provider point of view. Yet, interestingly this issue of sexual and reproductive health right was not discussed separately for final strategy and action planning. It was included in the main issue of "Access to Public Health Care".



The two-day Zonal Consultation for the eastern region identified six areas of women's health concerns and discussed them in groups. The following issues were identified:

  • Poverty: right to food, livelihood, safe water, sanitation and shelter
  • Model of Development resulting in displacement, migration, trafficking, disasters, disability etc.
  • Gender violence in public space, domestic violence and mental health.
  • Access to Public Health Care.
  • Right to informed choice on sexual and reproductive health.
  • Health rights of differently-abled women.

The following format for group presentation was decided on:

  • What changes do we want in the government policies and how do we ensure its implementation?
  • How do we collaborate with other campaigns?
  • How to strengthen our efforts at the state and regional level?

The participants stated that there should be major changes in the Policies which should be made more integrative and have a multi sectoral approach. They should be gender sensitive and pro poor. The policies should be made public and have broader debates before they are finalized. The Right to information was considered to be very important.


The National Health Policy should include specific needs and help to demystify the issues of the differently abled people. At present their issues get covered in the policy for Social Justice.


The discussions highlighted the importance of developing infrastructure and physical accessibility to facilitate implementation. Ensure quality services which are within the access of women and all marginalized communities.


The participants felt it was important to form a region based forum of the four states and collaborate with campaigns on health like the JSA, Right to food, work etc. The Civil society Institutions like State women's commission and Human Rights commission needed to be a part of this effort. SWASTHAA network would be the focal point to disseminate information.