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Violence Against Women – How much have we changed “culturally”? [Part 1]

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Part 1 By Avani Bansal:

“After considering the historic page and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholic emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess that either nature has made a great difference between man and man or that the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been very partial”

These words of Mary Wollstonecraft truly represent my feelings on the topic.

From prehistoric times of reigning queens to the modern day Parliamentarians, women have travelled a long way. But leaving apart a very handful of the city-dwellers, life continues to be a trauma for most of the women till date. Everything possible is being done, but things do not seem to be changing fundamentally, or even if it does, at an abysmal pace. This naturally forces me to question — whether violence against women has becomes quintessential to our culture. My inquiry is only limited to yes or no and does not at this point dwelve into the whys and hows.

Existence has been kind enough to me for I am one of those privileged few, who are standing at a very crucial juncture – for when I look back I see the struggle of all those women who came before me and fought for women’s right to self-expression and a dignified human life and there is  a feeling of exuberance and thankfulness that has engulfed my heart for had they  not been I would not have been here.

But I choose to fix my eyes at the colossal task that lies ahead for the baton has been passed and now it lies in my hands and all the women of my generation to regain the lost human status of womankind.

So dear friends I start with posing  a question – Is woman human? Absurd as it might sound, it would be childish to relegate it to that status without pondering enough. Why this basic question? When turning the pages of  innumerable books for preparing for this article, I went through what is called an information overload….of the laws and treaties that have existed for years heralding equal status of women in the society. This was followed by those figures that screamed of the ground reality and the gross violation of these laws and spoke of the unimaginable violence that is thrust on women all across the globe without an exception. And then I thought perhaps even after years of women’s movement their condition is deplorable and the reason perhaps is that this male-dominated society never in its true sense considered woman as human. Beginning with Eve who is considered to have originated from Adam’s ribs, women have been considered as creatures who can loiter life away merely employed to adorn her person, that she may amuse the languid hours, and soften the cares of a fellow-creature who is willing to be enlivened by her smiles and tricks, when the serious business of life is over.

So before we can begin any discussion a realisation of her indispensable human nature is the first step. Does any intellectual present there holds a different view?

Well then we proceed..

Meaning of ‘violence against women’ and various legal protections-

Being a law student I am expected to first apprise you of  human rights and various laws and that exist for protection of the ‘fair sex’ from the clutches of not so fair sex!! And even more importantly the meaning of the term ‘violence against women’.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women defines ‘violence against women’ as “ any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether in public or private life.”

The acts of violence range from battering assault, rape, female infanticide, female foeticide, dowry deaths, prostitution, trafficking, women being beaten in the suburbs, arrest of women searching their husbands and children, sexual assault of refugee and displaced women, abuses against women in custody, domestic violence, abuses against women workers and the list goes on..

The human rights can be traced back to the Magna Carta (1215 AD), the petition of rights (1627 AD) and the Bill of Rights (1688) in the UK. The Declaration of Rights of Man (1789) by the French national Assembly influenced the framing of the constitution of the USA and in the 19th century these rights became the basic principles of the Constitutional Law of modern civilized states.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights created in 1948 as an international body of laws, was meant to protect the integrity and and dignity of human beings. Those laws together with the 1979 Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against   Women have been pivotal in the affirmation and implementation of human rights. Article 5 of this convention seeks to eliminate stereotyped roles for men and women and to ensure that family education teaches that both men and women share a common role in raising children. Article 10, dealing with education, reiterates the same idea. Article 11 calls for maternity leave and “social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities.”

The Indian Constitution not only prohibits the State from discrimination against any citizen on grounds of sex but it at the same time empowers the State to make special provisions for the well being of women . Art. 15 provides that there shall be no discrimination on grounds of religion, race, sex, place of birth, caste. Art 16 deals with equality of opportunity in ‘public employment’. Further the Indian Constitution lays down Directive Principles of State Policy, wherein specific provisions to ensure the rights of women have been incorporated. Articles 38, 39, 42 and 44 have  a bearing on this aspect. Then there is a host of Acts passed for the benefit of women- Maternity Benefit Act ( 1961), equal renumeration act (1976), The immoral traffic ( prevention) act (1956), the dowry prohibition act (1961) etc to name a few.

A cursory glance of these laws fill my heart with exuberance but just a glance outside the window and the happiness melts away giving way to deep rage. These laws have proved themselves as ineffective in fighting the menace. I can go on to cite  various suggestions in order to improve the situation  that adorn the books and finish the task allocated to me. But I was surprised to see that most of the writers who have written on this topic ended up reiterating the dismal picture, citing figures giving credibility to what they were saying, mentioning various legal provisions provided for women’s protection and giving  a juicy conclusion. But in my view it is our reluctance to go to further depths in order to find out the roots of the problem that even today half of the world population suffers in silence. Hence it is time to explore those underlying assumptions of the society that work to develop this chasm between the two genders and have become so ingrained in the system that they are very rarely brought under scrutiny.

Read part 2 here.

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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, 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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