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Here”s An Effective Strategy For Millennium Development Goals (MDG”s)

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By Mahitha Kasireddi:

From the 5th — 6th April 2013, the UN is observing Momentum 1000 which marks a 1000 days milestone before reaching the deadline of 2015 in achieving the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs). There may be an appreciable amount of progress today in achieving these goals. Leaders may be convinced by the figures and statistics which they endorse as achievement but they should realize that they are not just numbers but real people, real flesh and blood.

Momentum 1000

Individuals, communities and institutions have been mulling over since 13 years on what could be that magic wand that could ameliorate millions of impoverished around the globe. The years of contemplation lead to a recent conclusion that was an absolute answer to six out of eight of the MDGs- “Investing in women and children”. Asia-Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) is the first ever forum that gathered in September 2011 to discuss inclusion of women as an economic growth strategy. Hilary Clinton called it a “Participation Era” where women participation would bring about a dramatic impact on growth of economies. How would you expect a society, a nation to develop and grow with half of the population not contributing to the economy?

To achieve women’s participation in contributing to the GDP is a distant dream unless the various deterrents in its way are done away with- Incomplete education, child marriages, sanitation and health of adolescent and pregnant women, HIV, gender-bias and violence against women. In order to address these above what we fundamentally need is an “enabling state”. Also, the UN has challenged to reduce maternal mortality rate by three quarters by 2015. This is something which is unavoidably and technically linked to the mother’s health.

When you save women’s lives, you are really making an economic investment not just in a family, but in the whole community and the nation”- Jill Sheffield, Executive Director of Women Deliver. Worldwide, 15% of pregnant women have complications from preeclampsia to cesarean birth. The main cause of concern is the lacking of essentials such as transportation, sterilization and secured blood samples. Iron deficiency anemia accounts for 100,000 maternal and 600,000 prenatal deaths annually.

Women from middle and low-income groups do not have access to services and protection of themselves and their children from HIV AIDS. Without access to care during pregnancy and post pregnancy period, 1/3rd children are born with HIV and died within a year, 50% by 2 years and 80% by 5 years. In Malawi, 60% of people with HIV are women, putting their unborn children under the risk of being exposed to the HIV virus.

Because women give birth to children on the dirty floor of their homes and the umbilical cord is cut with an unsterilized knife, it gets infected and leads to tetanus deaths. 2 million people in the world lack sanitation facilities and access to portable water. Basic hand-washing remains a challenge.

As Hillary Clinton said “Violence against women is not culture, its criminal”. 6 out of 10 women experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Victims of Sexual abuse are three times more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Violence against girls below 16 effects their mental health and school performance which ultimately leads to dropping out of school without completing secondary education.

What can be more pathetic and painful than a child’s death? India looses 4,200 children under age of 5 every day (The Hindu: No country for new born). Due to lack of basic practices such as breast feeding and immunization  16 lakh babies die every year. However, India recorded a fall of 48.7% between 1990 and 2010. Yet, Under Five mortality rate is stagnant which constitutes majorly to child deaths.

We talk about reproductive health, family planning and maternal health before we fight the biggest pandemic in the developing world- “Child Brides”. “A girl who is married as a child is one whose potential will not be fulfilled”- Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, UNFPA. 10 millions girls worldwide are married before 18. Nepal, Ethiopia and Afghanistan are countries where child marriages are more rampant. In terms of figures, India has the highest number of child brides with Kerala alone at 50% increase, Jharkand 14%, West Bengal 13.6%, Bihar 9.3%, Uttar Pradesh, 8.9% and Assam 8.8%.

Poverty eradication, Primary Education, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, Child mortality reduction, Improvement in Maternal health and Combating HIV/Aids, Malaria and other diseases are the 6 out of 8 MDGs which can be accomplished with one break through long term solution “Educate Girls”. It is this laconic statement that should be followed “if you educate a man, you educate a person, if you educate a woman; you educate a family and benefit the entire community.”

What happens when we educate young girls? Girls and women are a power house who have the potential to up root global poverty. Even one extra year’s education plays a role in income earned by women. Financially independent women are more likely to spend for their family and communities. Women would influence markets and create growth by focusing their spending habits on purchases such as food, healthcare, education, clothing, consumer durable and financial services. Child marriages deprive young girls of their right to education and eventually pushing them and their children into poverty. The viscous cycle of poverty percolating into next generations can be broken only if girls are educated with at least minimum of secondary education. Parents should be counselled and made to take cognizance of the importance of educating their daughters.

Identifying and encourage women leaders and intellectuals at all levels is also an important part of empowering women. Women entrepreneurs should be provided with state sponsored financial services to help them develop. Thus, enabling the contribution of women to the GDP.

Children of mothers who are educated and well informed about hygiene habits and health services are healthier and have prospects to live longer than the children of illiterate mothers. Education gives them information of basic habits from washing hands to cooking healthy food. This may help in reducing maternal and under five mortality.

What is the role of an enabling state? We need an enabling state to impose strict laws to curb human trafficking of girls, child brides and children. The government of the nation should ensure the security of women at all levels. It is within the state’s capacity to provide and fulfill needs of pregnant women and adolescent girls. Focus should be on girls of age group 15 to 19 as they constitute 1/6th of country’s fertility. Contraceptive needs, HIV checkups and immunization to new born are the state’s responsibility. The state should lead campaigning about AIDS and involving men and boys in the dialogue is the best way to prevent HIV. School should be provided with proper sanitation facilities, lack of which is the reason why most girls drop out of school once they reach puberty. Information on menstruation, incorporation of gender equality lessons and sex education, distribution of low cost sanitary pad are what an enabling state has to implement which are actual grass root foundations to reaching the MDG targets.

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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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