Author: Ranjani K. Murthy, May 15 2014 - Thanks to a friend of mine, on 11th of May, 2014 I had the opportunity to speak on a Tamil television channel called Puthiyathalaimurai (meaning new generation) on gender and women’s health in India. The half an hour question and answer session was in Tamil. While my mother tongue is Tamil, I grew up in north-India and I was hence not as fluent in Tamil as in English. Nevertheless I accepted the request.

The anchor was backed by a team of young and smart researchers. I gave them the data I had on gender and women’s health in Advance. The team formulated the questions based on the data as well as their general knowledge which was impressive.  They ran through the questions with me and we did a mock interview. A life cycle and gender approach was taken to understand women’s health. Some issues were kept out, like the health issues confronting sexual minorities as it was felt to be controversial. 

However, issues such as gender discrimination in food, immunisation and work load, skewed child sex ratio and sex ratio at birth, sexual education of adolescent girls and boys, lack of choice with respect to partners, poor maternal and reproductive health, high rates of anaemia amongst girls and women, burden of contraception on women, addressing health consequences of violence against women, reproductive cancers and its effect on women and mental health of women were discussed. How men’s addiction to substance use affect women’s health was another topic of discussion, as well as issues of health services not adequately reaching Dalits [a traditionally marginalised group], tribal population, minorities those living with disability, etc. It was also observed that women’s health cannot  be looked at outside the context of privatisation. Rates of caesarean sections and hysterectomies were higher in the private sector than public. Private infertility clinics were mushrooming and quality, affordability and accountability were issues which were highlighted. Surrogacy by poor (already anaemic) women was high. It was hence important to regulate private health sector and strengthen public health sector. It was also necessary to give women working on India’s 100 days employment guarantee scheme iron tablets.

What are the lessons from this experience?

  1. Use opportunity to reach masses on a large scale through Television or Radio, even if it does not pay!  
  2. Research well on the topic - as relevant to viewers and the topic.
  3. Help the anchor and team in the TV studio prepare by sharing with them important materials they should read so that they frame appropriate questions. 
  4. Allow for the fact that YOUNG TV teams are smart, and come up with relevant questions that you had not thought of.
  5. There may be surprise questions (as happened in the second half of my interview). Be prepared for them.
  6. Agree to flow with how far the TV Channel is willing to go on gender issues, but push the limit as much as you can. It is important to be called again.
  7. Give telephone number in the end if safe, or allow viewers to ask questions.
  8. Never cite names when sharing experiences of gender/social exploitation. It could lead to a backlash. Confidentiality must be maintained.