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5 Housewives Break Status Quo For Social Impact

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By Tanima Banerjee:

How many of us actually believe that a woman’s life is unsubstantial and meaningless the moment she becomes a plain housewife? How many of us have at some point, ‘thought less’ of our mothers or female relatives, who are just housewives? I am sure right from the greatest patriarch to the most liberated feminist, believes that a woman’s life has no value and the most limited if she turns out to be a housewife. Even though there have been thinkers and scholars who have valorized the ‘job’ of a housewife by asserting that if a housewife’s income is calculated on the basis of the labor and management skills she puts into, her salary would be greater than an MBA graduate working in an international company. Despite such claims, being a housewife in the age of growth and increased women’s education is still seen as a redundant and limiting for a woman, or in simple terms “the end” of her life.

Sridevi Silish

Even I believed that in our country, there are two types of women, the housewife and the career-woman. And then, I met the third kind. Sridevi Silish, who is a mother of two children in Bangalore, is also a successful urban entrepreneur. Despite belonging to an orthodox family, she stepped out of the house and set up a production unit that provides employment for around 60 destitute women of a slum in Bangalore. She trained these women employees in handicraft using eco-friendly raw materials as well as helped them improve their financial status by saving money or opening bank accounts. Thus she has provided these women employment as well as self-sustenance, ushering these women with new hopes and a new life through her innovative business initiative.

Meera Mahadevan seen here with the children of her creche, and Indira Gandhi alongside.

Meera Mahadevan, founded Mobile Crèches, in 1969 aimed at providing children of construction workers with a happy and nurturing childhood. Since then this social movement has been working towards their future where these children are safe, healthy and educated. What must be noted here is that Meera was a regular housewife at that time. Mobile Crèches have now expanded its operations in Mumbai and Pune as well, where the women of the Mahadevan family work in this movement catering to the problems of the migrant population on the construction sites, which no other organization works towards. Not only educating children, they also train the women on construction sites to be teachers, which is undoubtedly a brilliant step towards building self-reliance of these women.

These are stories of urban housewives, but even the village women are not behind in proving their capacity to bring a change. Rajkumari Devi, a 58 year old mother of three grown up children, a resident of a remote village of Anandpur, in Saraiya block of Muzaffarpur,Bihar, is now called ‘Kisan Chachi’. Apart from being a housewife all her life, she utilizes her self-acquired expertize in agriculture by sharing her experiences with the villagers of her area. She cycles through the dusty village roads, giving tips to people on kitchen farming and on developing the right agri-based products for business.

Rajkumari Devi, or Kisan Chachi

She has also been able to mobilize around 300 women by forming Self Help Groups, who earn Rs.3000 monthly and made them self-reliant and financially secure. Fellow SHG member, Manju Devi, says, “Life has changed here. Women have started earning. It is true that we were only experts in household chores. But now we also sell our home-made products in market.” ‘Kisan Chachi’ is an example of a woman who uses her domestic expertise of farming practices that she acquired with age and time, and now helps people assess their land and predict the quality of crops. She has taught the villagers expand their business and grow their business by shifting to variety of crops, fruits and vegetables, and also make agricultural products like jam, pickles etc. SHG has now expanded its farms to fish farming, poultry and cow breeding. Thus ‘Kisan Chachi’ has transformed the lives of many around her, including her own family, and redefined their economy.

Lalit Lokvani is the first community radio station in Lalitpur, a district in the impoverished regions of Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh. The uniqueness of this radio station is that it has mostly female employees as radio jockeys, community reporters or field coordinators. This is an initiative to encourage women from within the community to take to reporting and anchoring programmes on issues that concern them.

Rachna, a girl of 19, who is a radio jockey in this radio station, has emerged as a role model for girls in her village. What she has achieved by making her voice reach across several villages is a remarkable feat for the people here.

Another woman, Uma Yadav, 33, a housewife, mother-of-five and one of the 12 community reporters at the station, has defied her family restrictions to do some productive work for the society. She says, “Until now no daughter-in-law in the village had ever taken to reporting, recording programmes and getting involved in solving issues related to women… I still have to face the snide remarks of my sisters-in-law when I leave for the station every day and return in the evening, but I feel it’s a small price to pay for what I want to do.” The station has been doing useful work by taking on social and developmental issues of the area and mobilizing people and spreading awareness related to health and family welfare as well, thanks to all the committed women employees of the station.

These women have not stopped at just being housewives. They have extended their social role. This is not to say that they have neglected their household. They handle the kitchen with as much dedication as they can. But their specialty lies in the way they have expanded their space and gone beyond the kitchen to make real contributions to the society at large. These women are not the professional women, who work in companies and institutions for a salary of 30,000. They have actually gone beyond the roles society has laid down for women, and taken new, path-breaking steps to give a new meaning to their lives as well as the world outside. They are “Innovators” who are harnessing their skills and talents beyond just home management, choosing paths unimagined before, achieving what is normally out of range for a conventional housewife. They have empowered themselves as well as made valuable efforts to strengthen the community, beyond being just the homemaker.

What these women have achieved cannot be under-estimated. They have defied all odds and rebuilt themselves and the society around them by harnessing their talents and expertise. They are no longer dependent on social institutions like family alone to substantiate their lives, but have expanded their visions to newer horizons. They have all had a dream, and they have striven hard to make them real. In a country where a thousand and one gender prejudices exist, this is a big leap forward. The stories of these unsung heroes come as a motivation for all those women, who think that life for them is confined within the four walls, and there is no hope for them after being termed as housewives.

Women like Sridevi, Meera and Rajkumari prove that one doesn’t have to be a big degree holder to work for the society and make their life meaningful beyond the household. A housewife needs to look within herself and find her hidden talent, fueled by a will and resolution to bring a change in the world around through little steps. Women need to realize that if they want, they can do anything. They need to think beyond the assigned social role they are asked to perform, and understand their relationship with the community at large. Only a woman can bring a change in the lives of other women who are still disempowered or oppressed. A woman needs to understand that she is not a dispensable entity, but as much a citizen of the country who is as much needed for the country’s development as an engineer or doctor. So, the next time you under-estimate a housewife, think again! She might be the agent to the next big change in the political, social or economic scenario of your country.

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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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