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A Feminist’s Perspective: On the Eve of International Women’s Day

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By Aditi Annapurna:

I felt the need to make it clear from the beginning of this post that I am a Feminist, for I think of this declaration as a Disclaimer of sorts, that yes, this piece is going to be filled with the “biases” and value judgements that Feminists like me are famously known for, that this serves to be deemed “impure” for the fact that it brims with opinion and ideology that makes all the difference between Neutrality and Bias. However, more than a feminist, I write this article as a Human Being, as a person with a conscience, an inner being that envisions a world without discriminations of any form or manner. I write this article as a woman who feels for the years of exploitation that women of the world have undergone due to social stereotypes and gender roles.

In the answer to this statement, there exists a long-stretching, historical explanation, one that spans many decades and centuries of exploitation. Today’s youth, and this refers to any woman or man that happens to be reading this post is not very aware of the kind of treatment women of the world have been subjected to, and this can be due to a variety of reasons, one of them being the fact that the feminist movements in the recent past have been able to achieve and bring about great changes to society that have obliterated the very apparent differences in treatment that the Female Gender was earlier unfortunate to experience. From the suffocation that women endured at being restricted to the confines of their homes, where their Husband and Children were the only things that could mattered to them to the moments of hysteria that they very-embarrassingly exhibited in public places as a result of years of suppression, thus amounting to unrest showing itself in its ugliest and most socially-inappropriate forms, women have had an ugly history of discrimination of being subjugated to various forms of suppression.

Sure, today, women enjoy opportunities to embark on and develop a career for themselves, maybe become as advanced in their fields as their male counterparts, but a few decades before today, things weren’t as easy for The Common Woman. And it is to commemorate, to serve as an observance of dignity and gravity, this very struggle towards Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women, that International Women’s Day possesses significance in. This is more than just a day’s practice — while March 8th does celebrate the great progress we’ve made in ensuring Equality for Women, it also carries the reflection of the inequalities that persist in society, a quiet acknowledgement of the fact that for every woman who rises beyond boundaries of Society and Gender Constructs, there remains a woman shackled within her traditional roles and responsibilities, for whom Liberty and Freedom is still a distant dream. The International Women’s Day thus symbolises the extent of horizons that women still need to venture unto.

Talking about The Feminist Question, an equally-pertinent issue still remains to be discussed. What does the International Women’s Day mean for Men? After all, “feminism” denotes belief in the social, political and economic equality in both the sexes. However, the question of what this means for the rights of men is rarely discussed. While breaking down social constructs of gender roles relating to Women and what is expected of them is on the rise, we still see many identity roles and often, stereotypes being bestowed upon Men. Many men and women would contend that in the whole process of Women’s Empowerment, the men are being left behind, that men are still considered the primary bread-winners of the family, that Men who sit at home and assume more “domestic” roles are looked down upon as unproductive. That men are still expected to be creatures of emotional restraint, that being emotive about one’s feelings makes less of a Man.

To all these contentions, I respond by saying that even the root of all these social identities is still a perceived hierarchy of Men and “Masculinity” over Women and “Femininity”. Think about it — the reason why men are expected to be the economic heads of the family and are to be less emotive is for the very fact that the mentioned characteristics and traits are thought to be “womanly”. You create a hierarchy of cold rationality and emotional restraint over emotional expressiveness, you create economic roles and contributions as of higher essentiality than more “domestic”, sit-at-home roles, and you’ve created a vicious and rather viscous mould of gender differences. Therefore, only when we realise that there is nothing less-important or insignificant about letting emotions translate on you, that there is nothing trivial a task in taking care of the house and children will we be able to actually break gender roles and boundaries of characteristics of identity. The observance of an International Men’s Day, in this respect, is an equally-important step towards establishing Equal Treatment of Genders.

The International Women’s Day is, unlike what many people may think, an equally-important practice for men as it is for women, for it reinforces the need to problematise existing gender inequalities and work towards a general deconstruction of any forms of “received ideas” relating to what is expected of each gender, and thus serves as a reminder that while a lot has been accomplished in our efforts to do so, a lot still remains to be achieved in making the same opportunities available for all.

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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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