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Getting Serious About Development: The Need Is Now

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By Rahool Gadkari:

This past week, two different events happened to grab my attention. The first one grabbed headlines the world over — Apple launched the new version of its iPhone, amidst much fanfare, selling around 5 million units in a little over 3 days. The second one, I suspect not nearly as many people might have heard about; Planet Read — an Indian NGO and a pioneer of same language subtitling (SLS), was one of the awardees of an USAID grant, to help improve child literacy worldwide.

The former outshining the latter is hardly a surprise. After all, Apple is now the world’s biggest company in terms of revenue; with a second quarter 2012 profit ($11.6 billion) almost equalling Google’s revenue during the same ($12.21 billion). Nonetheless the disparity in the coverage of these two admittedly dissimilar events evoked in me an intangible feeling of discomfort. The message of literacy is obviously in much greater need of advocacy than the launch of the iPhone. In fact, the news was so hard to get across to the public that an acquaintance of mine struggled to court interest from many of the major publications. And while I am by no means critical of Apple and the interest their products generate, I was left wondering about the state of the society we live in; where tech evangelism outshines social evangelism. Pondering on it a little longer I was forced to ask myself — are we serious about our social development goals?

Consider the following — India has the 4th highest GDP at parity in the world, the 11th highest GDP at exchange rate, but in GDP per capita terms we are ranked a miserable 186th. Almost 32 % of our population lives below the poverty line (considering a minimum wage of $1.25/day). Assuming the Indian population to be around 1.23 billion that translates to a staggering 393 million living in poverty. Compare this to the American population of ~310 million, with a GDP over 10 times ours. The challenge is enormous. But, surprisingly little seems to be happening on the ground. The same pernicious mentality prevails when it comes to climate change. The government has rolled out the universal ID project (UIDAI), MNREGA, SGSY amongst others, but once again, save the UIDAI project (partly perhaps due to its pioneer chairman Nandan Nilekani), not many receive much attention. Given the systemic nature of corruption in India (underscored recently by the many high profile scandals), the checks and balances put in place to ensure the smooth implementation of such schemes aren’t enough to put one’s mind at ease. Our government talks about inclusive growth (from the aam-aadmi to the business owner), but that dream shall remain a dream unless it finds a way for the aam-aadmi to see some tangible improvement is his/her standard of living. With our elected representatives spending more time arguing than formulating policy, typified by parliament being adjourned for 13 consecutive days over the coal block allotment scandal, I don’t garner much hope for change from a government standpoint. It thus falls upon you and me, as conscientious citizens, to help this movement for development, gather momentum, and address these issues by bringing them into the national consciousness and encouraging healthy debate.

A recent study by the Bellagio Initiative (working on philanthropic and developmental pursuits), very trenchantly expatiates on the need for wellbeing to be the focus of development, as opposed to economic growth. Development, the report argues, can only happen if we are able to reach politically sustainable solutions, which in turn necessitates that not everyone’s interests will be catered to each time. This regulation unfortunately, needs to be handled by the government. In the capitalistic societies that we live in today, self-regulation, although ideal, is hardly a realistic expectation. The Guardian in a related article argues that there is a feeling globally, that the very agencies entrusted to undertake our developmental projects, are losing the people’s trust. Not only is this a worrisome thought, but also very detrimental to achieving our goals. Large institutions and agencies, carrying considerable diplomatic/political/monetary clout, are best equipped to channel resources quickly and efficiently. What the development sector needs is a trailblazer like Apple, with a clear sense of the problem and relentless in its pursuit of the answer(s). To make that happen, governments need to be able to sell the idea of social development. Microfinance is a striking example, with its low principle, high interest rate model – it is both a calling and a business. It is only a matter then, of reaching out to the right audience.

The United Nations enlisted eight millennium development goals, from eradication of poverty, improving maternal health, combating diseases to ensuring sustainable growth. The 2015 deadline to achieving these is fast approaching, despite several goals remaining unaccomplished. With 1 billion people worldwide still living in extreme poverty, several million without access to basic sanitation, healthcare and primary education, there is precious little time left to waste. So far, especially in India, we have seen some intent, but what we need is greater resolve. More visibility for each of these problems along with better incentivization, to encourage the best and the brightest of our country to work on humanity’s greatest challenges is needed. The time is ripe for us to leverage our new technologies, be it through RFID cards, smart phones or collaborative efforts like crowd sourcing. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I can find no better way to conclude than to say — united we stand, divided we fall. Unfortunately, with the stakes as high as these, falling is not an option.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author: Rahool is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities, and the University of Pune with degrees in electrical engineering. He writes part time and presently lives in the United States. To read his other posts,click here. Reach him on Twitter @RahoolGads[/box]

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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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