This online art project aims to break the stigma surrounding abortion

NEW DELHI: A woman sitting alone in a taxi, smartphone in hand, stares out the window at the tree-lined road outside. In the accompanying caption, she tells her story: having an accidental pregnancy as she started her first job in a new city, then opted for Abortion because it was “the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong people to be parents.” She says she went to doctor’s appointments on her own and threw up through the windows of taxis as “caring drivers stopped their cars and cleaned up after me, gently berated me when I suggested to them. help “. “There was no hostility to this thing in me, but also no tenderness, no melancholy,” she adds.
This illustration, stylistically inspired by the Dutch artist Vincent Van GoghThe iconic late 19th-century painting Café Terrace at Night and the accompanying story are part of the ongoing project “#MyAbortionStory” by Mumbai-based artist Indu Harikumar, which includes real-life stories of women who have had an abortion. in their own words.
Harikumar, who has worked on crowdsourcing projects related to online dating, body positivity, sex, gender and sexuality, started the project after being approached by MyBodyMyChoice, a social media campaign run by a group of civil society organizations working to end the stigma surrounding abortion. in India and supporting the right of women to make their own choices about their bodies.
“If there is a common thread that links all my projects, it is shame and vulnerability. Since abortion is so imbued with shame, I thought it was essential to address it, ”Harikumar explains. “Also, there is so much talk about right and wrong but little about people’s experiences. I wanted to do this project because all of my work has focused on people’s experiences.
According to a 2017 study published in the Lancet journal, around 15.6 million abortions take place in India each year, a figure 22 times higher than the government’s official estimate. Almost three in four abortions were performed by taking drugs purchased from pharmacists and informal vendors at home, instead of going to a hospital.
While abortion is common in India and legal for up to 20 weeks under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, it remains heavily stigmatized along with many aspects of women’s sexual and reproductive health, says Shikha Nayyar from Global Health Strategies and Debanjana Choudhuri from Pratigya, two of the many civil society organizations behind the campaign.
“It creates physical and mental trauma; many women do not know that abortion is legal in India and / or feel so ashamed that they end up going to a charlatan or trying to perform the abortion themselves, ”say Nayyar and Choudhuri. “It also creates a difficult environment to advocate for legal reforms that would help improve access to services. The campaign chose the format of Instagram art because of its visual nature and its potential for conversations and community building through surveys and quizzes.
Harikumar says she has been surprised by the number of responses she has received so far as well as the diversity of experiences. “Some women shared very traumatic experiences – for example, stories of abortion after rape. We also received stories from women who did not see their abortion as a trauma, but rather as a pragmatic choice, ”she says. “We have received stories from married and unmarried women, with and without children, and with a wide range of reasons behind their decision.”
Yet there are commonalities in all the accounts – the importance of a strong support system as well as the gratitude of having the choice to decide whether or not to continue with their pregnancy, albeit the shame associated with the abortion. by doctors also appears to be rampant. The project has also become “a platform for some people to come to terms with their experiences and their pain” and feel less alone, and this is often the first time they have shared the experience. To draw the illustrations, Harikumar asks contributors if they want one or two aspects or emotions. “I choose one to illustrate. Almost all people talk about how their partners, friends or the world in general have treated them or how they are healing and these are aspects that I try to fit into the illustrations, ”she adds.
The month-long project will feature 10 stories and will run until International Safe Abortion Day on September 28 on Harikumar’s Instagram account @induviduality and campaign account @mybodymychoiceindia. Besides the project, Harikumar also used Instagram Stories to shatter abortion myths, share medical and legal resources on reproductive health, as well as start conversations about taboos and the abortion experience. For example, when she published a poll asking if people thought there was a stigma around abortion, 99% of people said yes. Many also revealed that they only found out about their best friend’s abortions after a few years.
This shame and stigma, in turn, contributes to the high number of unsafe abortions in India, which are responsible for 8% of the country’s maternal mortality. “We hope to provide a non-judgmental space where people can be heard and supported. The hope is that by telling personal abortion stories that are too often overlooked, we can normalize the conversation around abortion. This will help show people who have had or are planning to have an abortion that they are not alone, ”said Harikumar. “It will also help prevent unsafe abortions. ”
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