“For someone like me, experiencing various female health issues – menstruation, yeast infections, even irregular periods – finding guidance feels elusive. The absence of any female gynaecologist in our area adds a layer of uncertainty.” Riya shares, reflecting on the complexities she faces.

Riya Sen, a 16-year-old resident of the Arambagh municipality, has had difficulties throughout her adolescence that are exacerbated by the healthcare inequities that exist in her neighbourhood. As a student, Riya has taken on the role of spokesperson for her fellow students. Hundreds of young girls like her are affected by the lack of female gynaecologists in the vicinity.

“It’s like trying to find your way through a maze when the path is always changing. Being an adolescent is full of unknowns, but when it comes to healthcare, it’s like being blindfolded,” she explains.

A shadow looms over women’s health in the heart of Arambagh municipality, that weaves together a vibrant tapestry of cultures. The stark gender disparities here are affecting the community deeply. Everybody’s access to essential life services should be a given, but the scarcity of female gynaecologists in Arambagh is a significant obstacle for women seeking crucial medical attention.

“I remember feeling uncomfortable during medical consultations,” says Riya, her voice tinged with vulnerability. “Sometimes it’s hard to open up about personal matters, especially when the doctor is a male and doesn’t understand what it’s like to be in your shoes.”

Being denied adequate female healthcare professionals in the field has left Riya and her peers feeling misunderstood and underserved.

With a total doctor count of 50, the Arambagh municipality is a hub of medical care in the area, and the scarcity of female gynaecologists is alarmingly evident. Many instances of discomfort and distress have surfaced in the disparity, illustrating the challenges faced by women seeking adequate care.

“There’s this unspoken fear of not being heard or understood,” Riya confides. “We need someone who gets what we’re going through, someone who can make us feel comfortable and heard.”

Riya, resilient amidst these challenges, advocates for change in her community. “We need more than just a band-aid solution. We need initiatives that empower us with knowledge and support,” she says with determination. “Every girl deserves to feel confident and empowered about her health.”

Riya represents the collective demand for a healthcare system that not only treats but understands the unique needs of teenage girls navigating the intricate path of adolescence.

“In this maze of growing up, having the right support can be the guiding light,” she concludes, hopeful of a future where every girl in Arambagh can journey through adolescence with confidence and access to the healthcare she deserves.

The Arambagh municipality, in Hooghly, has an ineffective health system with no efforts or inquiries made into concerns of women’s health and sanitary conditions. Even the sub-divisional hospital here operates private ambulances that are having trouble due to an oxygen issue, with patients complaining about being forced to nanny. In fact, the Hugli district suffers significant disparity in the health conditions of women, where underreported problems with infections, childbirth, menstruation, and reproductive health are quiet witnesses to the bigger issue.

“Reproductive health is a complex terrain, often laden with hurdles that go beyond physical concerns,” says Radhika Das, 45, another resident grappling with the scarcity of female gynaecologists in the community. “The absence of female specialists creates palpable discomfort during consultations, hindering our access to essential care.”

For many, like Radhika and Riya, being denied female gynaecologists by public health systems isn’t a mere inconvenience, but a barrier to candid discussions about intimate and important health concerns.

For instance, many women in the area suffer from the consequences of menopause and thyroid syndromes. “The struggle to find doctors who understand and empathise with our experiences adds layers of hesitation to seeking timely medical attention,” Radhika emphasises.

Her experiences echo a broader challenge in the community. A system that does not employ enough female healthcare professionals contributes to the underreporting of health issues amongst women. Whether reproductive health, menstruation, or infections, these health concerns remain veiled by silence due to the underprovision of resources that cater to women’s needs.

Radhika remains optimistic about addressing these challenges. “Initiatives promoting greater female representation in gynaecology and healthcare are pivotal,” she feels. ”Creating pathways for open dialogue, initiating health education, and breaking taboos surrounding women’s health will empower us to prioritise our well-being without fear or hesitation.”

Her voice represents the collective struggle of middle-aged women in Arambagh, also striving for a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system. Their narratives bring to light the urgency of addressing gender disparities in healthcare provision, so that women can navigate their health journeys with adequate support and dignity.

Data from past initiatives in the area reveals sporadic attempts to address this gap, yet the inadequacy of these efforts remains evident.

Moreover, in Arambagh, with its diverse mix of rural and urban environments, effective access to health education, particularly on women’s health issues, is limited in supply. The cultural norms and social perceptions that influence our health-seeking actions often lead to hesitation amongst women in discussing sensitive health matters with male physicians.

Several community development programmes have been implemented in West Bengal that focus on primary health practices and health development. These include the Community-Based Primary Health Care Services, launched in 2006 and intended to cover 71 urban local bodies in the state. The programme aims to provide quality primary healthcare and referral services to impoverished and marginalised groups of people in densely populated urban areas. However, the programme is limited by a lack of focus on women’s health, accessibility and reach, quality and scope of services, resource allocation and staffing, as well as community engagement and awareness.

A programme on Urban Reproductive Child Health was initiated in 2012 to address the needs of child and reproductive health in urban West Bengal. It aims to offer comprehensive healthcare services in 99 urban local bodies for family planning and child, maternal and reproductive health. However, this programme too is limited by low staffing and resource allocation, community awareness, data collection and monitoring, and service accessibility and quality.

There are similar constraints on the Urban Public Health Care Services programme underway in 50 urban local bodies since 1985. Addressing these limitations is crucial to improving the effectiveness of these public health programmes and providing universal healthcare to the population.

At present, there is no effort underway to promote women’s health communication, nor is there any research being done to address the taboo on discussing women’s health issues with male gynaecologists.

“It is crucial to address these issues and inform the local women of the solutions in a place like the municipality of Arambagh,” says a concerned activist working to bridge this gap. Their initiative seeks to close the communication chasm that exists in discussing women’s health issues by promoting open dialogue and offering vital health education.

In Arambagh, there is an evident need for community involvement, education, and communication to help women prioritise their health without hesitation or fear.

In a multicultural community like Arambagh, besides improving resource allocations in public health, the path to gender parity in healthcare must be paved with collaborative efforts. Addressing gendered absences and disparities in this regard would help drive meaningful change and ensure that every woman in Arambagh can seek healthcare without bias.