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The Indian Youth and the Sustainability Challenge

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India is already one of the largest economies in the world, and will continue its rapid urbanization and economic development over the next few decades. This is a cause for celebration, but one tempered by the recognition of challenges this growth presents: rising consumption and demand for energy, increasing green house emissions, and constraints on critical natural resources such as land, water and oil. Like all other countries, India needs to find a way to ensure energy and environment sustainability without compromising its economic and social development. Despite India’s strong policy framework and some successes, environmental degradation has not been arrested on a large scale. By 2030, India is likely to have a G.D.P of USD 4 trillion and a population of 1.5 billion. This will swell demand for critical resources such as coal and oil with a parallel increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Considering that 80% India of 2030 is yet to be built, the country may have a unique opportunity to pursue development while managing emission growth, enhancing its energy security and creating a few world scale clean-technology industries.

In order to make this dream of a ‘Green Prosperous India’ come true, country will have to rely on its most valuable asset, its youth. Global issues are not solved within the four walls of a scientist’s laboratory. They need to be brought to the knowledge of an average individual. And informing youth is the best way to begin. Many of the best ideas come from young minds; the Indian youth is, and must be, the builder of a new society. Currently 42% of the population of India is composed of people aged between 15-35 years and in the next 30 years the figure will touch 55% mark. In India, a growing democracy with a complex and diverse society, the challenge is to ensure that this huge cohort becomes a vibrant, constructive force that can address social issues and create a more just, equitable and peaceful world. Rather than see young people merely as a passive recipients of services and consumers, it is critical to recognize them as change agents who have the energy, passion and creativity to make a significant contribution to society while also building their skills for the future. While every segment of society is responsible for maintaining the environmental integrity of the community, young people must have a special interest in maintaining a healthy environment because they will be the ones to inherit it.

Environmental issues present some of the most profound and complex challenges requiring attention today and in the coming decades.

One foundation-building step in enhancing local, regional, national and global capacities to respond to those challenges is increasing environmental awareness. Here the role of youth is central, for it is in the rising generations that heightened awareness can most easily be achieved. Awareness is not about telling people what will happen. Rather it is about personalizing it and telling them how it could impact their lives. Young educated people are especially well-placed to promote environmental awareness simply because they often have better access to information about the environment than do their elders. In part this is a matter of having being exposed to more environmental education in schools and living all their lives in an era in which environmental issues have loomed large. Established anti-ecological ways of thinking and behaving are not ingrained in young people, and they can introduce fresh ideas and outlooks to issues. Youth can undertake public awareness programs in their schools, nearby communities and rural neighborhoods to spread awareness.

The participation of youth in environmental protection can be sought at levels and locations ranging from grass-roots activism and participation in conservation projects to policy-making bodies and NGOs. The role of youth can be institutionalized in policy-making through advisory bodies such as youth councils. Many national Governments have ministries or departments with “youth affairs” as part of their portfolio, though such offices tend to view youth as a population to be addressed by public policy (often “youth affairs” is part of the education ministry), rather than a resource to be tapped for participation in policy-making in a variety of areas, including the environment. The role of NGOs has become increasingly institutionalized, so the youth can join various NGOs. There are possibilities for youth participation in practical environmental projects. Even one’s everyday life- and particularly the consumption decisions made in it- can become an “environmental project”.

The Government also has some duties which it is should undertake in order to strengthen participation of youth in the protection, preservation and improvement of the environment. Integration of environmental education and training into education and training programs is one of them. Emphasis should be given to environmental education in school curricula. The participation of youth groups in gathering environmental data and in understanding ecological systems and actual environmental action should be encouraged as a means of improving both their knowledge of the environment and their personal engagement in caring for the environment. It should also focus on enhancing the role of the media as a tool for widespread dissemination of environmental issues to youth. Governments should establish procedures allowing for consultation and possible participation of youth of both genders in decision-making processes with regard to the environment, at the local, national and regional levels.

In addition to these some more initiatives need to be taken at schools in order to develop an interest of the children towards the environment. Through posters, slogan writing, puppet shows, street plays, and similar traditional media we can spread the message of Green Environment – A Sustainable Environment. Eco Clubs can run campus-wide campaigns to promote water and energy conservation, organize national intercollegiate recycling competitions, energy conservation contests and annual celebratory events like Earth Day and Environment Day. We can also have an Each One Teach One program where each student imparts life skills to at least one individual from the under privileged section of the society. Through this personalized interaction, messages on eco friendly strategies are imparted which are localized to the community. These campaigns can give heartening results. A campaign by the school students for the students – Say No to Crackers was launched in Delhi some years back. It has made a significant decrease in the pollution levels of the city, as the youth and children have voluntarily decided to boycott the use of crackers and celebrate a smoke free and noise free Diwali. Anticipating the possibility of load shedding in the summer of 2007, young green entrepreneurs in Mumbai embarked on a Save Power Campaign called ―I Will and Mumbai Will. These activities were initiated to educate and motivate the consumers to switch over to CFL lamps which, in partnership with Phillips India, were made available to consumers at discounted rates. Consumers were appealed, through advertisements in Leading Newspapers, to operate their washing machines and other electric gadgets at non-peak hours and set their air-conditioners to 240 C and thus join the Conservation Campaign. This was backed up with Awareness Programs on Energy Conservation and Electrical Safety held in schools and colleges. Visits of children from schools to thermal power station at Trombay were organized. The contents of all the awareness programs focused on the need for energy conservation, easy to follow tips on conserving energy and precautions to be taken while using electric gadgets to avoid accidents. Such initiatives were replicated in various states of India and have led to green entrepreneurship.

Considering that today’s youth will be the tomorrow’s green entrepreneurs we need to cultivate moral and ethical values regarding business and the environment. The establishment and design of companies, without taking into account the impact that they will have on the environment, is what the present generation of young green entrepreneurs must avoid. Our companies must, to a large extent, be accountable for the pollution that they generate. We cannot continue to think, as we have done until now, that the responsibility for keeping the environment healthy and free of garbage is the exclusive purview of the State. It is not enough to label our packages with phrases such as let us protect the environment, recyclable container, and environmentally responsible company. We must instead contribute a part of our capital, along with the State, to developing clean technologies.

CONCLUSION

In the end, the Indian Youth serves as a beacon of light in ending the environment crisis. They can serve as an effective force in encouraging people to redo their lifestyles and prod stakeholders to make a concrete plan of action. A well-thought framework, strong research armor and a concerted effort among different youth-led initiatives are key steps to strengthen the youth‘s influence in society. Through these, the Indian Youth will be ready to step up to the sustainability challenge.

photo credit: http://www.global-greenhouse-warming.com/

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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