Fighting stigma and advocating for sexual healthcare with Kaushi Kogar
A conversation with Kaushi Kogar about creating access to sexual and reproductive health services
Ruam Chuay’s interview series, Sparking Conversations, shines a spotlight on advocates and changemakers in our community who to work to create a safer world. We hope to inspire and share ways you can make a difference in your community.
We’re so excited to bring you this first interview with Kaushi Kogar, who works to make a difference in the lives of women and girls worldwide every day.
We talked to Kaushi about her experience fighting the stigma attached to sexual health and challenges that come with providing access to contraceptives and safe abortions to women and girls worldwide.
Working in the field internationally, Kaushi is incredibly passionate about making sure people have access to the sexual and reproductive health services they need. As an advocate, Kaushi takes a stand for the rights of women and girls.
Here is her story!
External Relations Officer, Marie Stopes International Australia
Introduce yourself! Tell us a little bit about your background and work.
My name is Kaushi Kogar, and I grew up in Thailand. I have a BA from The University of Texas at Austin and MPH from University of Melbourne. I currently work at an organisation that provides comprehensives sexual and reproductive health services (contraception and abortion) to women and girls in 37 countries worldwide. I work in Melbourne, Australia, and our office supports countries such as Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia. (Feel free to read my LinkedIn for more info).
Why did you choose to pursue a career that helps people the way you do? What motivated you?
In my first year at UT, everyone had to take a class/elective that was completely different from what they were studying (I believe it was for promoting the interdisciplinary nature of university).
I took a class on HIV: the global and local epidemic. The professor, myself and another friend were chatting one day and she told us we would be great sexual health peer-educators, and so we applied and that’s really where I started my career in this field.
The reason I like it so much is because I think people find SRH such a taboo topic, even though people discuss, see and experience it all the time. More importantly, I believe fundamentally that women and girls will never achieve gender equality unless they have a right to control their bodies.
Were there any challenges you faced while addressing social issues in your line of work?
I’ve worked both in the domestic SRH sector and International sector and some of the challenges are the same. If people don’t have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information, especially from a younger age, most likely it will result in an unintended pregnancy. In Australia, however, there is still access to safe abortion. In a lot of the countries where I currently work, there is no legislation to allow for safe abortion, which means that women and girls are likely to turn to an unsafe abortion, which can result in a disability or death.
When working with young people who have had unintended pregnancies, they genuinely didn’t know that sex led to pregnancy. It wasn’t even a concept that had been explained yet. So reaching young people, at a large scale with this type of information and service is extremely challenging and requires a lot of resources.
The stigma surrounding women’s right to access contraception and safe abortion is inherently driven by religious and social institutions that are grounded in the structure of the patriarchy remaining the same. In Timor-Leste, our research found that men believed if a woman accessed a contraception service without the permission of her partner, then that was a reason for violence to be perpetrated against her.
What is one thing that you think is important for people to recognize when it comes to interpersonal and gender-based violence?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one thing but I’d say that it’s important to understand that violence comes in many forms, and may not start with something like a punch. For example, financial abuse is when women and girls are forbidden from working, they have no direct access to household bank accounts, being forced to demonstrate how your money is spent, threatening not to send the children to school if you spend money etc.
The other thing that I believe strongly in people knowing is that if anyone ever reveals to you that they’ve faced any type of violence, the first thing you should do is believe them. The #metoo movement is a miracle because women’s voices weren’t heard for years as a result of the fact that no one believed them/did anything when they came forward.
What is one thing you think people can do to have healthier relationships?
Openly communicate. Empathise and respect your partner as an equal.
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