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While The World Interprets, What Do The Arabs Have To Say?

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By Saurabh Sahni:

Recently, the Arab Centre and Policy Studies (ACRPS) conducted a first-of-its-kind poll that involved surveying 16,731 people residing in 12 Arab countries. The motive was to take down their opinion on democracy, corruption, Israel and the US. The 12 different Arab countries represented about 84% of total population of the Arab world. The survey was basically undertaken to know better about the political mood of the Arab people. And the poll revealed some interesting results.

Most of the Arab countries do not enjoy a good reputation. Women over there are known to face discrimination since ages and people are restricted in their rights for freedom. Thus, this poll worked as a medium to bring out the region’s public viewpoint to the rest of the world.

The results were indeed interesting with most people being in favour of the goals of Arab revolutions. Majority of those surveyed wanted a democratic system of government in their country. Furthermore, a large number of people wanted the religious authorities to stay out of the political issues of the country. There were also polling regarding the most threatening country. And with a one-sided ratio of 15-1, Israel and the United States were voted as more threatening countries compared to Iran.

However, every issue had a different result in different Arab countries. In fact, results varied not just from country to country but from region to region as well. Also, on all questions that were related to the national priorities, people’s opinions were rather trans-national and trans-border.

Apart from the fact that people placed themselves mainly on the religious side, the poll also revealed that most of these people were against the involvement of religious authorities in their political choices. About 71% of people were against the discrimination among religious and non-religious people on the basis of their social and economic backgrounds. Regarding the major authorities in the Arab world, 77% of people showed their trust in the country’s military force, 50 per cent of them trusting the police, 47% of people believing in their respective governments, and about 36% of individuals showed their faith in the local councils before the initiation of the revolutions. Furthermore, as much as 83% of people claimed that the corruption is widely spread in their country and mere 19% believe that the laws laid down for the citizens are equally implemented among them.

Apart from this, as much as 75% of individuals believed that the countries of the Arab world should come closer. The same percentage of individuals believe that the restrictions put upon free travel shall be lifted, about 67% of people are not happy with the current Arab-Arab cooperation. In addition, about 84% people believe that the Palestinian question was not just the cause of the Palestinians but for the Arabs as well. The same percentage of people was against the fact of Israel being categorized as a State. Mere 21% of individuals were in favour of the peace agreement signed with Israel by Egypt, Jordan and the PLO. In addition, only one-third of the surveyed people had faith in the foreign policy of their country. When asked about weapons for mass destruction, about 55% of them wanted nuclear weapon-free region. The same percentage of individuals was fine with Israel possessing nuclear weapons.

The poll is the largest one conducted in the region. It brought to the forefront the scenario of majority of Arabs supporting the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. It gave a relatively clearer view of the socio-political environment in these 12 Arab countries.

The poll made it clear that Arab people want an honest democratic system that gives them the freedom of expression, political plurality, etc. Even though the majority of people wanted democracy in their country, there were also a small percentage of people that really don’t understand what it actually is. 36% people said they would not support a party’s decision that decides against their political views. This somewhat depicted the intention of pluralism among the people. A certain number of people living in Egypt and Tunisia had faith in their country’s government that it would do well in the coming three years as compared to how it worked under the rule of Mubarak and Ben Ali.

On a conclusive note, it is yet to be seen as to how freely do Arab citizens express their viewpoints without having any fear. This could be classified as the first time when they were willing to express themselves, and the credit could be given to the revolutions that took place in the Arab world. All these surveys were result of a 40-minute face-to-face interview with each of surveyor. This ensured more accurate results compared to what the usual over-the-phone interviews deliver. What this does is, it gives a clear picture of the vote patterns and brings forward the viewpoints of those who have been quiet in the past.

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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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