In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on enabling and empowering youth and women to be skilled and creative and provide innovative solutions in every sphere for building an 'Atmanirbhar Bharat’. This is a particularly huge victory for those of us working in the field of reproductive health and empowerment.
The COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and challenges in access to health services particularly for women and young people. Findings from PFI’s recent studies to assess the impact of COVID-19 on young people showed that they were faced with fear, anxiety and apprehension of the future.
At such a juncture, we are encouraged once again that the PM spoke about issues that are critical for the empowerment of girls and women, including access to menstrual hygiene products and preventing early marriages, which are vital in any conversation about India's future. We have time and again emphasized the need for adequate investments in the empowerment of young people and women, who constitute half of our population.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, young people, especially women, saw an increase in their domestic workload, the experience of violence at home, and mental anxieties. Fifty-eight percent of women under 18 years of age reported an unmet need for sanitary pads. The gaps we found in our surveys are something the PM has addressed, which is a big win for us and all those who stand for strengthening and empowering the young amongst us.
The next step for the government would be to move beyond the address- and challenge the social determinants that prevent equitable access to essential health services for women and girls.
The announcement of initiating the Digital Health Mission and use of technology is long pending and welcome. Those of us working on the ground to ensure women's empowerment hope that the government will embrace the challenge of creating the necessary mechanism to keep the vast medical records safe and secure.
The update on the development of three vaccines in the country is heartening and we hope that its distribution is equitable and given first to the most vulnerable. PM Modi has promised to create opportunities, building skills, developing infrastructure and opening of space sector for the Yuva Shakti (youth power) that will help India reap the benefit of the demographic dividend in the country.
As we go onwards, we feel energised and enthused hearing from the Prime Minister and our shared concerns as India marks its 74th Independence Day. It may well herald a new wave of freedom and emancipation of our youth, women, and more vulnerable sections of society. We move onward with hope and renewed commitment.The author is the Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, which has completed 50 years in service of the nation. Mutreja is a public health expert with more than 35 years of experience in the field.