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Open Wounds And A Manufactured Stalemate In Syria

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By Fawaz Shaheen:

In more than three years of conflict, around 100,000 people have been killed in Syria, according to UN estimates. Since August 2012, an average of 170 Syrians are killed everyday. As cynical statistics and incredulous figures become a daily reality, the truth is lost amid confusion and the competing narratives of Superpower games.

Syrian-conflict

Bashar al-Assad is without any doubt a dictator and a tyrant with a proven family history of using extreme and cruel violence against any form of dissent. Those opposed to him in the region, primarily the big brother of Gulf monarchies Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent Qatar, are not much different. Its international opponents, led by the Unites States, have a proven efficiency in manipulating revolutions and dictating democracies. Its backers Russia and China habitually use ‘sovereignty‘ as an excuse to protect their interests in the region via model of a scaringly efficient and ruthless state-capitalism. In the backdrop looms large the bitterness of Saudi Arabia at an increasingly powerful Iran, Assad’s closest and most pro-active ally.

As Syria descends further into chaos and anarchy, this is a good time to sit down and look at some hard facts, informed by the geopolitics of past history and present turmoil in the Middle East region.

In January of 2011, Syria saw the beginning of peaceful protest calling for democratic reforms. These protests turned into a civil uprising against the government of Bashar al-Assad. By May of 2011, news began pouring in of the Assad regime using military force against the peaceful protestors. In July, a group of defectors from the Syrian military formed the Free Syrian Army to support the uprising against the Syrian government, with the stated aim of overthrowing the Assad regime.

During this period, the West was preoccupied with an increasingly messy situation in Libya, and for months the atrocities of Assad were tactically ignored while the once-peaceful uprising in Syria turned to other options.

What has followed may cynically be called an elaborate farce, but it is a glaring testament to the failure of world institutions meant to maintain peace. It proves once again that platforms like the UN are little more than instruments of power games among the world’s elite.

There have been countless meetings, “Friends of Syria” conferences, councils and coalitions in an endless diplomatic exercise that has yielded precisely no results on the ground. The Syrian National Council, which was formed with much fanfare to lead the revolutionaries, has been reduced to a platform for tussles among allies promoting their personal interests. Its first president Moaz al-Khatib, a popular and simple man who was Imam of the famous Umayyad mosque, resigned within five months. He alleged interference by foreign powers and their indifference to Syrian sufferings as the reason for his inability to continue.

With international pressure building and the Americans openly speaking of arming the opposition, it seems that President Assad’s departure is truly a matter of time. Even his backers China and Russia have spoken of exploring options ‘beyond Assad‘. President Obama may even employ his effective strategy of non-visible warfare (using covert forces and unmanned drones) to finally tilt the balance. But only at the right time.

As of now, the West is playing for time with pointless meetings and discussions which are little more than photo-ops. At the same time, backroom negotiations are in progress among the various “allies” of both sides to this conflict, figuring out ways to share the spoils of this war and the stake of each in the configuration of a post-Assad Syria. A sure pointer to this is the way in which both US and Russia are pushing for the ‘Geneva Conference‘ with both Assad and the rebels at the same table. It gives credence to the opinion that slowly but surely we are seeing an aligning of powerful interests.

Syria has unwittingly become the laboratory case for evolving new paradigms of conflict-resolution (read interest-management) in a new, multipolar world.

Meanwhile, fanatics and extremists have been armed to fight against and for the Assad regime, while sectarian tensions are being built up and ruthlessly manipulated in the run up to the formation of a new Syrian state, where the tried and tested formula of divide-and-rule will again be used by the new colonial forces to promote their interests.

A few days back, UN Secretary General called for both sides to respect the holy month of Ramadan and call a humanitarian ceasefire. If indeed a deal has been struck, the offer will be accepted. If not, the carefully manufactured stalemate will continue as long as an agreement is reached, and in the meantime Syrians will pay for it with their blood day after day after day.

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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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