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Uttar Pradesh, Marriage Pressure, The LSD Theory And Yellow Boots

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By Dr. Bhavna Mittal:

I recently had to give a presentation on the health system and status prevalent in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It turned out to be a rather easy yet dismal task, depressing and predictable. A few improvements here and there could be accounted for, no doubt, but overall the picture is more gloomy than rosy. While I collected information for the presentation, the despicable data and the sad statistics; I realized how facts and figures bring to a more concentrated focus – things we already know.

The health status in UP is deplorable, we all know that, but even I was shocked to see that while the female sterilization rate was 16.5%, among the men it was between 0.1-0.2%. The figure clearly outlines the shadows of ignorance and darkness prevalent in the Bimaru state. Literacy is still low and among the few girls who join schools; a large number drops out to enter into the institute of under-aged marriage and each of these girls goes on to produce on an average 4 children in her lifetime. Life expectancy has reached 60 but there are thousands still for whom each pregnancy brings with it the danger of impending death.

Why am I talking about all this? Because I’m a UP ki chori. My life however has been starkly different, comfortable, and I can claim to understand the rural-urban divide and the gender inequality that persists with respect to health access, but I really can’t understand what people go through.

Education was top priority in my home. My mother’s gynecologist was instructed to tie up her tubes following the birth of their second child irrespective of the sex of the child (I have a younger sister).

So basically overall the going has been good. No one brought up marriage in my home when I was 18 but seven years since my 18th birthday I am for the first time aware of the gender inequality/insecurity a girl in a rural household probably feels when she is pulled out of a local medium school so that her brother can go to an English medium. The situation is obviously not comparable by any standards but the onus of being a girl and an Indian girl at that suddenly seems a little more understandable.

I am now heading towards the dreaded late twenties when even in this age, a girl is supposed to have a last name that’s not her fathers. It’s not that I believe I’ll lose my identity or individuality by this social institution but then it’s not an educational institute where you are required to enter at a stipulated age, right?

They say-“What’s the problem beta? What’s stopping you? Your life won’t be stifled; your professional ambitions won’t be halted; boys are very modern these days”. Then the over-weight middle aged aunties give the examples of the Pepsi lady (woh boy cut waali!) aur woh ICICI waali who wears beautiful pearl necklaces.

As they slip into a mundane conversation over a new pearl set the richest of them recently purchased, I smile and just nod my head. I begin to wonder why they don’t understand that I am not aiming to be some alpha woman, I just have my own theory as far as marriage is concerned. Here goes:-

I’ll marry for Love, not for security, stability or sex else it will result in divorce.

It’s as simple as that. It’s my theory, it suits my sensibilities.Period.

Now coming to the last bit of my title, well it’s a reference to the movie- Girl in yellow boots. To me it depicted the story of a girl who pursued what she believed in.

Hope is a good thing, I believe, it’s important to hold on to it. And that’s exactly what the yellow boots seemed to say to me, they signified her hopes of finding her father. Each one of us has our own hopes and though like the yellow boots they may seem ridiculous to others, it’s important to have them. Her yellow boots gathered dirt along the way but the yellow colour always managed to stream through the dirt and yes in the end there was more mud than the sunny yellow but then as Gandhi said- “Almost everything you do will seem insignificant in the end, but it is important that you do it” because no one else will.

Also in the movie, the girl tells her boy friend in all honestly that he was nothing more than a distraction for her. That’s the kind of thing that scares me when it comes to getting hitched- A marriage that exists to distract me from the fact that I am actually all alone, an institute that distracts me from the fact that I am more in love with the concept of having a husband than with the man my children call their father.

So, I sincerely request everyone to please let me hold on to my yellow boots, my hopes , my beliefs. Maybe in a few years I will give in to conformity, but till then kindly DO NOT DISTRACT ME. I have so much more to do with my life. Don’t you think that too?

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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.

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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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