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Women”s Reservation Bill: The Futuristic Bill?

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Shruthi Venukumar:

In our times, change almost always demands a revolution; to the extent that the terms can be used interchangeably. And when a change is twirled around women, society more often than not spews salvos dug out from archetypical, often archaic, stereotypes before reluctantly being nudged into compromise. The Women’s Reservation Bill has it in its fate to attract the fangs of politicos cutting across party lines even as we see it stringing together those even of diverse ideologies, united by the one real division — that of gender.

Some call it blatant feminism; some call it a devious plan to thaw the traditionally male bastion of politics (albeit in hush-hush tones), some call it a diversion to split the variously-hued Opposition garnering steam over the more pressing problems of inflation and internal security; some call it an unnecessary addition to the overflowing list of quotas athwart the country. So it came as no big surprise when a senior male member of my family said, “This reservation, IF it comes through, will fail to create a bang because the society is at large antithetic to the idea of women in politics. A quota will only alienate them further. More female faces in the Lok Sabha can only be sired out of societal attitude change.” I couldn’t agree more. But then my mind wafts away, to the period of land reforms which saw the Right to Property relegated to the position of a civil right, when Zamindari was abolished; the original reservations for SC?STs etc. Had we waited for society to undergo a sweeping change and become more inclusive of under-represented classes, maybe Begar would still be practiced right under our noses; Dalits and tribals perhaps would never have had a chance to set their foot into educational institutions, their abstention from which guaranteed their ignorant absence from other social “institutions” that they had a Constitutional Right to etc.

Daggers out to cut the argument already? I am in no way side-lining or making light of the repercussions of some of these quotas. Neither do I claim that these reservations have ensured equity to the aggrieved sections and their integration with the mainstream on a war footing. But at the same time one cannot deny the fact that, these have, to a large extent mitigated the deplorable conditions of the aforementioned groups. And the effect has in many cases trickled down to other members in the same group. The mismanagement and disparity we see today between members of the “creamy layer” and the less fortunate is a situation compounded by a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, because of these reforms, disparity is not rampant today to the extent that it used to be at the time of independence, at least in terms of education if not affluence. These were not enacted to fructify a fast-paced instant revolution. But over the course of years they have been fodder for significant change.

Why is social reform of the said kind being compared to the Women’s Reservation Bill? Because like the former, it has the potential to solidify into the bedrock of what our future society could be made of. We might not see an Indira Gandhi thrown into the mainstream from the lower echelons of society along as soon as the Bill is ushered into Act-hood. But undoubtedly a girl child born today, by the time she gets her first Voter’s ID Card, will have an assurance that the path to politics is not all that strewn with thorns. The situation will not be as bleak as it looks like today with women candidates vying for tickets only to be shot down in favour of male candidates. This Bill may very well act as a catalyst for future dreams which are like an evasive bubble to young aspiring politicos with a “handicap” of gender.

An interesting yet amusing line of reasoning I had the luck of hearing is that having a sizeable number of women in the Lok Sabha might lead to a flurry of Bills unduly favourable to women turning into Acts. Cut to the current scene with a lean population of women in the Lok Sabha as against the robust one of men and one would think anti-women Bills are all the rage in the Legislature. Keeping one gender at decimated levels in the Lower House is no way to keep in check what a patriarchal parochial society would like to call “vamp-politics”. This when the flip side of the coin is tired vying for our attention, the picturesque side of Women’s welfare measures becoming a part of serious legislation.

“Inclusive” politics has always been the key card of our governments in their bid to keep satiated the diverse masses. “Someone to represent us in the Parliament!” the very thought has a calming, soothing effect on the masses without exceptions. Why would it be any different with the Indian womenfolk, especially when it comes with a “safety in numbers” clause!

Points and counterpoints can empty umpteen bottles of ink and blunt the tips of a hundred quills; especially if one were to train one’s guns on the Opposition’s arguments. That calls for another write-up. But for now, it is time to lay back and revel in the Bill making it past the first hurdle!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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