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Till When Will You Make Us Walk In Separate Parks And Take A Separate Ride #CloseTheG​ap

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By Rhea Kumar:

Every other day we hear of Mahila parks, separate ladies buses and pink autos for women. While these measures may help to ensure safety of women in the short-term, these are not going to promote gender equality in the long term. These measures of ‘positive discrimination’ only create unnatural barriers between men and women. Their whole point seems to be to protect and isolate women from men, thereby preventing crimes and structural violence against women.

pink auto

All women should ask themselves this: do they want to live in a society where women travel in separate buses, walk in separate parks, do not walk out of their houses after 10 at night, and are armed with a pepper spray, always on their guard, when they step out of their house? These measures may keep us safe, but will we ever feel secure and independent? Will we be able to follow our dreams fearlessly and bring them to fruition? And ultimately, will we be happy to live in a society like this, where our freedom is constrained, not by laws, but by our own vulnerability?

“Taali kabhi ek haath se nahin bajti (you cannot clap with one hand).” A long term and sustainable effort towards gender equality requires close co-operation and efforts from both women and men. To solve the problem, we need to address it at its very roots: the patriarchal attitude of men. Patriarchy, the belief that women are inferior and subordinate to men, has been the source of all gender inequality in the world. Patriarchal attitudes establish male authority over women in every sphere of life. This may take the form of restrictions on attire, education, work choices, property inheritance and at a very deep and `base’ level, it translates to the bizarre belief that men, being ‘superior’ to women have every right over their bodies. Thus, the gap between men and women is everywhere; it starts at home and extends to every aspect of the woman’s life.

Boys have always been given more freedom than girls in Indian society. They are not subject to many of the stigmas that girls have to face. They can stay out late, move around with friends and do a lot more compared to their sisters. The discrimination starts very early! If a teenage girl has several male friends, she is called a slut, while a boy who flirts with multiple girls is called a stud! Our iconic male movie stars are shown brazenly chasing and harassing the heroine, in the name of `romance’. With an attitude like this, it is not surprising that men brazenly stare at or pass lewd comments at every woman who crosses their path. Yes, an attitude change is definitely in need. Girls are taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ from the age of nine or ten, how come we don’t have moral education on similar lines for boys? How come boys are not taught about ‘good stare’ and ‘bad stare’?

But let us not accuse the male species blindly without looking at the deeper cause. Nobody is born a misogynist; men have problems of their own. Living up to the male image of being tough and strong all the time cannot be easy. Research has shown that men have a lower life expectancy than women, simply because they do not release their pent up emotions. Society will condone anger and tough behaviour in men but softer emotions are often scoffed at. Men vent out their frustration and anger by attacking the easiest target they find, often their wives or other innocent women. Hence, any serious effort to achieve gender equality must involve men as serious stakeholders.

Here are some ways in which this can be done:

1) Integrating Gender Equality in the School Curriculum: Young children, impressionable and open-minded, must be taught lessons and subjects that promote gender equality. School curriculum has to be designed and selected with great care to portray women being equal to men and commanding respect at home and outside it. Lessons that portray women as weak-willed and subservient to male authority must be replaced by those that promote women empowerment, for instance, stories about women who have been successful in various fields of life and women who battled discrimination to come out winners. School curriculum should attack and dispel the traditional behaviour stereotypes such as `girls cook and raise children’ while `boys are sporty and earn money’. This will not only improve the outlook of boys towards women, but also inspire girls to be independent and strong-minded.

2) Paternity Leave: A large number of countries, especially in Europe and the USA, have provisions for paid paternity leave. Many of these countries such as the Scandinavian countries are shining examples of gender equality. In these countries, paternity leave has helped bring men closer to their families, reduced the incidence of domestic violence and helped in equitable distribution of household chores. A similar approach should be adopted in India. After all, if women can work outside home and supplement the family income, then men should be obliged to help women at home. Every now and then, we do hear of stray instances where husbands have chosen to be homemakers and caregivers and wives have chosen to be the breadwinners. While all families might not choose to follow the same model, these cases should be seen as examples of a gender neutral division of responsibility.

3) Reform Centres and Campaigns for Men: These have been a huge success in Norway. REFORM, a Norway based NGO, is part of the Men Engage Network, a global movement dedicated to involving men in promoting gender equality. REFORM helps men in difficult situations through anger management circles, personal counselling as well as a men’s helpline. Reform centres on similar lines must be set up in India and must make an active effort to involve men, especially in urban areas. They can be instrumental in understanding the factors prompting men to engage in violent behaviour against women, as well as in effectively dealing with the same.

I realize that all these measures are extremely difficult to implement. After all, changing the mindset of an entire nation is a daunting task, especially in the Indian context where deeply entrenched male arrogance will act as an obstacle every step of the way. I am not suggesting that we abandon short-term measures to promote safety for women, only that we look beyond these. Identifying the problems faced by men, especially those who engage in violence and finding solutions to these will improve the lives of both women and men. Hopefully, 25 years from now, our daughters will be able to walk freely at night!

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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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