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My “Hermes” Bag Makes The World A Better Place

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By Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha:

Carrie is a middle-level executive in a retail company in the United States. Her annual income is $60,000 and as a birthday gift, she wants to purchase an exclusive Hermes handbag for herself that costs a whopping $80,000! When quizzed about her highly, extravagant choice of gift, Carrie fiercely states, “A Hermes bag defines me — an independent, career woman who is worthy of respect.” Carrie is not the only woman who is obsessed with international brands and designer labels. She is also not the only individual to splurge thousands of dollars on an expensive commodity.


International brand consciousness, ostentatious consumption, and consumers have shared a special bond since years. This bond transcends borders, nations, income-groups, religions, and social boundaries. As consumers, we remain obsessed not only with designer labels but also with the brand of rice we consume. If we are Indians then we remain obsessed with ‘Basmati’ as the best, quality rice even though it may be more expensive than ordinary rice. Other Asian cultures stick by their personal brand of rice regardless of the dish or the cuisine. Brand obsession begins with the toothbrush or the toothpaste that we use in our homes. We can afford Colgate as well as Vicco yet, we choose Colgate over Vicco. Vicco may make use of more natural ingredients that are not harmful to the body but, Colgate is our preferred brand because we have been using it for years and its quality remains consistent. Like most, I associate high price with high quality.

The obsession of linking high price to high quality extends to women’s obsessive fascination with designer handbags. If you think about it then what do you think a handbag is? A handbag is only meant to carry personal items, cosmetics, etc. So does it really matter which fashion house is manufacturing that bag? I, for one, have a fairly large collection of handbags ranging from Ralph Lauren to street-side-picked-up-convenient bags. But more than the brand or the label it is the design and the utility of the handbag that draw me to purchasing it. Unfortunately or fortunately, most women do not think like me. To them, owning a luxury brand is a status symbol. For them, a highly priced commodity implies that it is of superior quality. In fact, according to an India Today article, India’s luxury market is set to be valued at $5.8 billion by 2016.

India’s tier-II cities such as Ludhiana in Punjab have outpaced the metros in the race for acquiring the biggest and the latest brands. Ask the wife of any rich industrialist in Ludhiana about her wardrobe collection and she will tell you that her sunglasses are Bulgari, her shoes are Jimmy Choo, her handbag is a Dior, and her watch is a Cartier. The obsession with luxury labels is so pronounced in these smaller cities that it becomes difficult to keep up with the high standards of grandiose. Ludhiana’s rich wives claim their identity and status in society through the likes of Hermes and Versace. More than the craftsmanship, the design, and the history of the brand it is the ‘beautiful feeling of self-worth and value of the individual’ that the brand creates. A fake version of the brand, although priced at much less than the original, fails to create the same feeling of ‘worth and status’. It is not just Indians but also the super-rich in China who are crazy about luxury brands. China’s young rich are so obsessed with brands that a Louis Vuitton has lost its exclusivity. China’s economic growth and the spending power of the youth have contributed to a booming luxury market. By 2015, the luxury market in China is set to be worth $28 billion. Limited edition bags cost anywhere between $9,000 and $150,000 but China’s rich are not complaining. As the rich in China become richer, their desire to indulge in the best of shoes, clothes, accessories, and jewellery is getting stronger. However, luxury in China surpasses our perceptions of acquirable luxuries and stretches to more boastful displays of wealth in the form of yachts, private jets, and sports cars. Another very notable reason behind the rich spending loads of cash on expensive luxuries is because they can afford to and because they want to. Luxury brands symbolize wealth. Wealth symbolizes power.

It’s not just the women who are obsessed with brands but also the men who are fiercely loyal to their favourite brands be it for shoes or for apparel. Obsessive shopping that was predominantly a woman’s territory has now been taken over by men. Without realizing the extent of their obsession, young men and women all over the world, are running into debt amounting to thousands of dollars and pounds but still they do not refrain from this indulgence, mainly because of peer pressure or pressure to ‘elevate’ their social status.

The obsession with brands is prevalent among teens too. Teenagers are at an impressionable age when they are easily influenced by celebrity culture and fashion trends. Celebrity lifestyle has a major impact, on the youth and teenagers who have the spending capacity — all thanks to their parents’ wealth. They feel the need to imitate their favourite celebs. Our celebrities endorse the best of luxury brands such as Tag Heuer, Rolex, and more and the first question that pops up in every young girl’s mind is — if Priyanka Chopra or Kate Winslet can sport this watch then why can’t I buy it? Deepika’s outfits from ‘Cocktail’ become the next ‘in-thing’ to sport.

Another very often less-publicized reason for wanting to sport luxury brands is personal insecurities and low self-esteem. The wealthy, who can afford to camouflage their insecurities, felt within a social group, with decadent luxury, do so with panache. However, the not-so-rich who cannot afford the luxury, still indulge themselves, sometimes at the cost of neglecting family—advice, low bank balances, and wisdom.

Our society is deeply impacted by celebrity culture and media propaganda and the obsession with international brands and designer labels is not going to end anytime soon. What we have to realize as a society is that luxury is materialistic pleasure; it cannot buy happiness or respect for long.

Photo Credit: Wen Cheng Liu via Compfight cc

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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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