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“I am On The Right Track, Because I was Born This Way”: Ten Women Who Changed The Face Of The World

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By Nidhi Khurana:

We all talk about history almost every day. But have we ever wondered who creates history? Is it a man or a woman? Who informs him/her? What kinds of events are included in the creation of discourses? Well, several feminists have answers to these questions. They say that most of history ignores the accounts and experiences of women. In a society which prescribes a woman to be the home maker and man to be the bread winner, there is a little chance that women will have something to contribute to the history of the same.

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Yes, many women nowadays are moving beyond their traditional roles, by moving out of the domestic sphere, for education and work. They are driving cars, they are choosing their own partners, or choosing to stay single, and all we can think of. But this change was not an abrupt change. That was the result of years of efforts of those ladies who broke the stereotypes and were deemed as deviant with bad characters, and sometimes also faced degradation for being too progressive. I know, International Women’s Day is over but it is never too late to learn more about women who created history, who dared to break the stereotypes, who changed the face of the world, maybe without whom I wouldn’t have gotten the right to express myself here. So, here we go:

– Virginia Woolf: The first woman modernist writer, an English novelist, is first on the list. She challenged society both in her style of writing, the substance of her writing and by her way of life. Not just for being an important and inventive modern novelist, but for reminding us, in A Room of One’s Own, of the remarkable things women might have written throughout history if they hadn’t been too burdened by household chores and society’s restrictions, makes her an important figure in shaping modern day feminism. .

– Rosa Parks: Rosa became one of the most respected figures in the civil rights movement in the US, but that she did by misbehaving in a way. She refused to give up her seat to the white man at the time when blacks were treated in an inhuman manner. Her audacity to violate the Segregation Law got her arrested then and there. But four days later, she started a new wave of rebel by boycotting the bus company. The boycott led to the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association which was headed by Martin Luther Jr. Parks continued to work for improving the civil status of blacks that also led to the creation of some of the significant civil rights legislations. She was also adorned with the title the Mother of the Freedom Movement from the US Congress.

– Coco Chanel: Paris is known for its glamour and its fashion industry since time immemorial. There is much it owes to Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Bonheur Chanel for bringing about a revolution in traditional clothing that women of the 20th century wore. Her menswear inspired fashion made her an important figure. Her ideas were considered to be too revolutionary as she often took traditional menswear and redesigned them for women, which was unacceptable at that time. Though, her ideas were opposed and resisted by the world, yet she believed “He will soon be claiming that the Resistance has liberated the world.” She is also the founder of the famous brand Chanel.

– Vidya Balan: The famous Bollywood actress might not have done much for the society or someone, yet she has moved beyond the typical image that Indian actresses usually carry. The actress has always been in the news for her extra weight and a not-so-impressive sense of dressing (normally silk sarees), yet her acting skills and her ability to preserve her individuality and originality have made her a successful Bollywood actress. She is also a social activist.

– Sampat Pal: Though she has named her organization as Gulabi Gang (pink being the colour of women), yet she has challenged the stereotypes that plague the Indian society. Progressive, bold and assertive, this woman has proved that it is not the education that alone contributes to your empowerment, but your own determination and unwavering strength that stand for your cause. Her gang stands to fight the domestic violence and oppression of women by punishing the violent fathers, brothers and husbands.

– Ellen DeGeneres: She has been much in news for embracing her sexuality like no one else. This beloved talk show host was the first one to move out in public and be assertive about her sexual choices. The world might criticize her for not complying with the traditions but she has always accepted criticism eloquently and in her own humorous way. Women like her need recognition for being strong in their character.

– Benazir Bhutto: She should obviously be on the list for being the first woman Prime Minister of a Muslim country. She helped to move Pakistan from dictatorship to Democracy in 1977. She also sought to implement social reforms, particularly helping women and the poor. Sadly in 2007, she got assassinated. But she will always be remembered for her charismatic authority and political astuteness.

– Mary Kom: Who says women don’t make good sportspersons? Mary Kom has cleared all the doubts by winning the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics in boxing. She is a five-time World Boxing Champion, and the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six world championships. Hats off to her for thinking out of the box and embracing a game that is traditionally not regarded as suitable for girls!

– Oprah Winfrey: She is regarded as one of the most influential media giants in the world. According to Forbes magazine, Oprah is one of the richest African Americans of the 20th century and the world’s only Black billionaire. In 2005, Business Week named her the greatest Black philanthropist in American history. Her personality is the testimony that one can always move up in life if one wishes to. All you need is the determination.

– Lady Gaga: Music is a part of our popular culture which has a powerful impact on what people accept as ‘normal’. Lady Gaga has got this message right, and has been doing things that are crazy and essentially gender-bending. Through her music and appearance in media, she has been challenging gender roles and grabbing enough attention too. People might find her weird and criticize her for her dressing sense. Nonetheless, she is undoubtedly creating a history probably because she was ‘born this way’.

There are several other ladies who have changed the world by resisting the gender specific roles and need to be acknowledged every now and then. For some, they might have transgressed the boundaries or broken the rules but as the saying goes ‘Well-behaved women seldom make history’

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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.

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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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