Women’s Health Line: The Journey So Far

Attitudes around women’s health and bodies had always made me wonder, and left me flummoxed. Women in labour being taken into the maternity ward, kicking and screaming, pushing out a baby while writhing in pain, is rather ironically called “normal delivery”. Even as a child, I never understood what was “normal” about what appeared to me a harrowing experience.

A lot of women I know, and I myself, go through excruciating pain during menstruation. We work, travel, play sports and go about our daily affairs as if all is well when actually we are dealing with daunting pain and discomfort. However, we are always told that period pain is “normal”: if it gets too much, just help yourself with a hot water bottle or pop a Meftal tablet.

My mother’s onset of menopausal symptoms eventually became so severe that hysterectomy seemed like the only viable option. While the rest of us at home would cosy up under a blanket during the harsh winters, I would find my mother suffocated, sweaty, and standing in the balcony in the middle of the night, dealing with rough hot flashes. Next day, she would speak with other women in the neighbourhood going through the same ordeal, and it would be established that this was a “normal” rites of passage into menopause.

This norm, the state of normalcy associated with women’s painful physical experiences, the casual normalisation of their aches and pains, left me uncomfortable, and unable to understand my own body. Women’s relationship with their health and bodies is mediated by social codes of honour, morality, silence and stigma. Far from being able to control their health, women across the world are barely aware of their sexual and reproductive organs, what they look like, how to maintain intimate hygiene, how to give and receive pleasure and most importantly, how to know when something is wrong. The difference between awareness and the lack of it, is often the difference between life and death. There are millions of deaths around the world due to debilitating, chronic conditions such as endometriosis, the only symptoms of which is just intense pain. And women’s pains are seldom taken seriously. When a recent study revealed that period pain is often as serious as a heart attack, most women around me were horrified but not entirely surprised.

I realised, before I had the words to adequately articulate it, that women’s health is not just a medical issue, but a social justice one. There were several issues facing women’s health, especially in India: complete lack of awareness and information about bodies, lack of body-positive research on chronic conditions like PCOS and endometriosis, absence of women’s communities that discuss experiences and share credible information to help each other.

That’s how I began tinkering with the idea of a platform devoted exclusively to women’s health. The idea was to explore the intersections between mental, sexual and reproductive health, body image, policy, market and practical products.

The biggest challenge was to navigate the vast amount of misinformation, social indolence and a systemic reluctance to acknowledge the problem. I encountered a wide range of disturbing responses: are you sure the number of women affected is so large, I am sure this problem is only in the rural areas, menstruation is an age-old occurrence so what’s the problem now, these days women are “career-minded” and that’s what leads to PCOD, it cannot be called “rape” if she is married to the man, I believe in being strong so I think it’s wrong to complain about period pain, talking about women’s health exclusively is a very narrow focus for a business. And much more. These, I took less as a challenge and more as a confirmation of my anxieties, which drove me to conceptualise my venture with more urgency.

The more daunting challenge was thinking how to build a framework for a product that, in time, will be able to drive structural change. What was the best way to incorporate safe interest-based communities of women, reaching a wide audience across age and geography, drive language and attitudinal changes in medicine, and also introduce innovative product-based interventions. Tying it all in a thread, in a cohesive whole, framing a narrative that adequately explained the need for a multi-pronged approach towards women’s health.

After months of research, focus group discussions and endless conversations with women of diverse backgrounds, Women’s Health Line began to take some concrete shape. 

Women’s Health Line is an organisation that believes in serving the interests of women and the girl child in a holistic and sustainable manner. Therefore, we provide robust content resources, services, products and campaigns in an attempt to create an active, solution-based ecosystem for women’s health and lifestyle.

In its fourth month, Women’s Health Line has already gained considerable trust and respect from an engaged community of women, passionate about changing the landscape of women’s health. As a young woman who allow herself to dream, I believe that Women’s Health Line has a long, long, long way to go. And with the goodwill of its supporters and collaborators, it will certainly get there.

Swarnima Bhattacharya, India