Finding champions for Women’s Health
13 Jul 2016
Prakash Ranjan, Senior Program Officer, C3, Bihar
Finding champions for Women’s Health

Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3) has been and is advocating to create salience in the public domain about issues that are close to our hearts-reproductive, maternal, new born, child and adolescent health. Our conventional and unconventional strategies to bring public attention to these issues range from working with grassroots champions to Self Help Groups, from panchayats, right up to elected representatives, and leading media houses to prioritize and raise public awareness on these issues. In Bihar, we work to ensure health and nutrition priorities remain on the political radar of that media provide due attention to health related issues, and community members exert accountability for improved provision and quality of services.

As part of this endeavour, we have been regularly meeting elected representatives, senior journalists and editors of all leading print and electronic media, and vibrant SHG and PRI members of the state of Bihar. Not very easy to draw attention towards these issues- health is lost among issues that clamor for political and media attention. Added to this is the challenge of setting up a meetings due to their busy schedule, disinterest, and other priorities. But, we also found a few who are committed to make a difference in the society by pushing for better RMNCH.

Ms. Sweety Seema Hembrom, 35 years old, the only tribal MLA (Katoria constituency) in the state legislature of Bihar, is someone who is willing to spend time engaging in long conversations on different social issues especially on health and nutrition. I have had opportunities to meet this dynamic and enthusiastic MLA. She is someone who goes beyond just promises, and plans to take up action for better health indicators in her constituency. Ms. Hembrom, before contesting for the assembly election was a school teacher and was also associated with social causes. Being a woman, she feels close to these issues and understands the importance for overall development of the state. She is well aware of the health scenario of the state and has a vision and plan to improve up the current situation.

She said, , “All of public representatives like us make a lot of promises to the public for bringing improvement in health, education, infrastructure, access to entitlements, law and order etc. but there are only a few who actually translate these promises to action. Health is a vital issue in the area which I represent. There are hardly any government health facilities functional. The first thing which I did after taking oath as an MLA is to organize health camps in the constituency. I wrote a letter to Civil Surgeon, Banka, with a copy to State Health Society and Hon. Health Minister, Government of Bihar, regarding the need of healthcare services to meet the immediate needs of the marginalized community in remote tribal areas”.

In the last session of Bihar Assembly, she was one of the first MLA who raised questions on ways to improve health indicators. She raised the issue of non-deputation of lady doctors at the Katoria PHC and CHC. According to her, she doesn’t remember ever in her life that these PHC and CHC ever had lady doctors. Asking questions on the floor was a step in her determination towards improving health of women. We often hear that when you raise issues of women’s health, counterparts in the political realm mockbut Ms. Hembrom says, ‘I don’t care about what other legislators think. I will keep raising my voice for the betterment of the people who have shown their faith in me.

She also highlighted her success, ‘I am very thankful to Honorable Health Minister of Bihar who resolved the issue within a month. Now both the PHC and CHC of Katoria have female practitioners’, she says with a big smile on her face.

She believes that the health goals cannot be achieved until we ensure the availability of doctors at all health facilities. “We also have to work on policies to prevent doctors from taking advantage of poor people”.

In two hours of long conversation, Ms. Hembrom shard more about her passionate effort to bring change within society, system and party. She feels that overall development cannot be achieved until state invests more in improving women’s reproductive health and nutrition. She believes health as a universal right irrespective of gender, caste or religion. ‘There are plenty of opportunities to create the change if we, as a public representative, are willing to lead it. You just have to listen to your heart, show honesty towards your own people, rest everything falls in place. I have already started and now I appeal my counterparts, fellow legislators to take steps towards this issue’, she said.

Listening to such a young change maker of the state was an inspiration for me. Her words made me realise that we can find champions if we look hard! And that the pace of development will speed up if we have leaders like Ms. Sweety Hembrom.