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Violence Against Women – How much have we changed “culturally”? [Part 2]

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Continued By Avani Bansal: Read part 1 here.

Natural Vocation theory –

When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1994, one of its first edicts removed girls from school, forbade women from employment outside the home, and required women to wear garments totally covering themselves when they appeared in public. This measure was a clear abrogation of the principles set forth in the Universal declaration of Human rights and the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. It struck at the most basic of women’s human rights, depriving them of the economic, physical, and intellectual independence and overturned what women internationally had been struggling to achieve for more than five centuries. Though France seems to be doing something radically opposite, albeit with a different objective, I wonder would the victims not be women nonetheless.

As John Stuart Mill argued in 1869 in his essay  ‘The Subjection of Women’, the question arises whether women must be forced to follow what is perceived as their “natural vocation” that is home and family – often called the private sphere or should be seen in private and public as the equal partners of men. While the division of spheres, based on sex and known as patriarchy may have been justified in the early evolution of the human species, the system long ago outlived its functionality and hence the time to question this! But telling them that they have to be ‘like man’ is an oppression too though of a different nature.

Milton tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace. I cannot comprehend his meaning. Did he mean to deprive us of souls and insinuate that we were beings only designed by sweet attractive grace and docile blind obedience to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar on the wing of contemplation.

Rousseau declares that a woman should never for a moment feel herself independent. That she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning and made a slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chose to relax himself. He further insinuates that truth and fortitude, the corner-stones of all human virtue should be cultivated with restrictions, because with respect to female character, obedience is the grand lesson which ought to be impressed with unrelenting vigour.

A lot of water has rushed through the Ganges since the time these thinkers opined their views. However it appears to me that the modern man of the 21st century is still lurking in darkness as he does not seem to have moved even an inch from these outdated ideas on the role of women in society.

Liberty –

If asked to point one single factor that results in this difference in the status of men and women in the society, I would say that it is the superior advantage of liberty that enables the former to see more of life. In the words of  Mary Wallstonecraft - Liberty is the mother of virtue and if women be by their very constitution, slaves and not allowed to breathe the sharp invigorating air of freedom, they must ever languish like exotics and be reckoned as beautiful flaws in nature. It is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise of his or her own reason. So why should women be an exception?

Answers this simple question – Shouldn’t women be allowed to turn to the fountain of light rather than deciding their fate by the twinkling of  a mere satellite? The recent honour killings across states opens a Pandora’s box and forces one to question — Is woman merely a property of her father or have we reached a stage in civilization, where we can treat her as an adult above all, one who is capable of deciding her own fate.

Education –

This is not a new suggestion but still cannot be dispensed with. The history of the drive for women’s human rights indicates that only when women are literate, when they can articulate their view of life in publications and before audiences, when they can organize and demand equality, when girls are educated and socialized to think of themselves as citizens as well as wives and mothers, and when men take more responsibility for care of children and the home, can women be full and equal citizens able to enjoy human rights.

However we don’t just need education in academic terms. An emphasis should also be laid on women’s health, promoting exercise of body and mind. Women should be more active physically and more knowledgeable about health, anatomy and medicine. All round development of their personality and freedom to choose their life course is the rue ingredient of education.

Women’s Body-

Feminist thinkers, including Charlotte Bunch, have pointed out that the central debate on human rights seems to concern the body itself: a body that is coerced into obedience and veiled, that is raped as a trophy of war, that is mutilated and systematically violated and ultimately a body that disappears from the public sphere of life. It is always the body that is tortured, abused and punished in wars fought between countries, sects or partners. If women’s bodies rest at the centre of the complex debate over women’s rights, we must endorse and strive for the body’s preservation and protection. We must remake the world so that women and girls can be free and equal, so that the integrity of the female body is recognized in the national and cultural realms. Having witnessed that which is beyond language’s power to represent, women continue to search for the meaning of hope. Their resistance to silence bespeaks the desire to remain whole and human.

If we fail to challenge our cultural bias, and see through the ingrained image of women in the social construct, everything else that happens in the name of art and culture, for the portrayal of women’s miseries will fail to have any effect.

I hope that all of my readers will be led to reflect atleast once as to the discrimination that we unconsciously perpetuate in our daily lives.

Every time while writing on any topic, one question that continuously lingers in my mind is whether it will serve any purpose or is just another attempt to satisfy my praise hungry soul to get a few compliments…And everytime I am engulfed with feelings of futility of my attempt and helplessness to change things around, I am reminded of these lines of John F. Kennedy which he said while delivering the presidential address-

“All this will not be finished in the first hundred days, nor will it be finished in the first thousand  days, nor in the lifetime of this administration, nor perhaps during our lifetime on this planet Earth, but let us begin it…!!”

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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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