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It's 2015. You're female. You run a business or are a working professional. You earn, you save, you spend. You take all reasonable precuations and that involves, naturally, getting insurance.
But if you happen to choose LIC, the country's oldest and biggest state-owned insurance company valued at US$240 billion, it also involves telling them details of your reproductive health you may not even tell your mother.
Sure, LIC is happy to sell you policies that help save tax, give you medical cover, and life insurance.
But only after you have declared the number of pregnancies, Caesarian sections and abortions you've had. As well as details of your last menstrual cycle.
A "Females Only" section wants women to tell-it-all:
(i) Have you been menstruating regularly?
(ii) Have you had any miscarriage/s?
(iii) Are you pregnant now?
(iv) State the date of last menstruation
(v) State the date of last delivery
There are no embarrassing moments for men. No intimate details they need to furnish. Only regular medical details such as:
(a) Have you ever suffered from any illness/disease requiring treatment for a week or more?
(b) Did you ever have any operation, accident or injury?
(c) Did you ever undergo ECG, X-Ray, screening, blood, urine or stool examination?
Men are not asked about the number of foetuses they've fathered. Details of the ones that made it, the ones that didn't. Or, for that matter, any history of alcoholism, smoking, tobacco-chewing and other unhealthy behaviours primarily associated with the gender.
And of course if you happen to be a woman who had an abortion or children but chose not to marry, good luck to you going down this form, because for LIC you don't exist.
Filling out this form online is bad enough, but imagine the embarrassment caused an unsuspecting woman when an LIC agent hands out a policy and asks her to fill out her "LMP" (Last Monthly Period).
Should it be reason for embarrassment? Maybe not. Is it a legitimate question for an insurance agent to ask a woman? Hardly.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association, says, "A woman is not obligated to share information about her reproductive health with anyone. This is invasion of her privacy."
"This is how insurance works, they gamble on her health status. But why should women reveal when they menstruate, or not, and how many pregnancies they've had?"
There have been precedents of women standing up and speaking out against such gendered practices. In 2007, women IAS officers were asked to fill out reproductive details as part of work appraisal. So, too, were women being recruited for the State Bank of India and Canara Bank. The Supreme Court had, in fact, shot down such insensitive practices in a case related to LIC's recruitment policy for women in 1991, as it violated Articles 14 to 16 of the Constitution.
And then there's the irrational linkage of a woman's menstrual cycle and reproductive health with the state of her overall health.
With urban living and stress levels rising for both genders, there is enough data to suggest that women hit menopause earlier than usual.
Should a woman who has turned perimenopausal in her mid-30s or even earlier be denied the benefit of a life insurance policy? Why is a woman's menstruation cycle the ultimate indicator of her health? There has been absolutely no linkage of poor fertility with poorer productivity at work or early death.
Antara Dev Sen, editor of The Little Magazine, wonders why the intimate details citizens' lives is so important to the State. "Why is the State keen to know whom we have sex with and how many times? Why is it keen to know our sexual orientation - are we homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual? What is this obsession with our private spaces?" "Asking a woman to fill out her menstruation details when buying an LIC policy is bizarre. It could have been a concern decades ago when maternal mortality was high. If a woman's reproductive health really did matter in today's times do you think the private health insurance companies would have spared women these details?"
"Why ask these questions? Are they profiling women for marriage? Why aren't they asking men about their sexual behaviour? What about women who have had abortions and pregnancies and are not married?"
An LIC officer Catch spoke to said the ready-to-download online forms were last updated in 2014 and were valid. He couldn't quite understand what was wrong with the content.
"These questions gauge the life expectancy of women. We keep adding questions to assess the risk, but the questions related to their reproductive health are as old as the health policy," he said.
That intrusion has existed for decades is no reason for it to continue. That LIC cannot see the insensitivity - and outright sexism - of its insurance practices is not surprising. That we women continue to offer them our patronage is.
Time to stop. Period.
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