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Palm Oil Companies Are Destroying Tiger Habitats In Indonesia. And So Are We!

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By Avimuktesh Bharadwaj:

There are just 1411 left! Remember something? Yes, I am talking about tigers. They have been known to be endangered for some time now. Sure, efforts have been made in India to improve the numbers. There have been some positive results too. Reports say that there are over 1700 tigers in India now, an improvement at least in terms of trend. Unfortunately, others have not been even this lucky. Sumatran tigers — critically endangered according to IUCN — are just about 400 left. With them are the orang-utans, their fellow species at fast depleting Indonesian rainforests.


Tigers need forests to hunt, to breed and thus, to survive. Their population density is known to be comparatively much lower than other animals and chances of survival for their offspring is equally low. Similarly orang-utans are known to spend most of their times on trees. Cutting of forests which also leads to fragmentation will mean that already diminished numbers of these animals have no interaction left between two fragments of forests. Thus it will require protected long stretches of forests if we want to improve the numbers of these animals. On contrary, in most of the critical areas of Indonesia there is hardly any protection to the forests. Palm oil and paper and pulp companies, which are the major reasons for clearing of these forests, have been able to destroy them and expand without much interruption.

But why, at all, should we worry about animals and forests of a distant country? The answer is quite a question again. Does nature recognise the boundaries we have drawn? We can keep our thoughts limited to mere numbers and feel comfortable that nothing is bound to happen in our immediate neighbourhood at least in near future. But if we dig a little deeper, we will realise that ground realities are not as comfortable as we want to pretend. In fact there are already alarming truths about environment and climate. There is a clear commonality between threat to Indian and Sumatran tigers. Both have suffered because of the loss of their habitats: the forests. Cutting down forests in either of the countries will have similar impacts which are bound to affect not just a country or a continent but the life on the planet, first the immediate dependents such as tigers and orang-utans and then ultimately the human beings.

In a nutshell, it is not just about tigers or orang-utans, nor is it about any particular country or region. As one of the most comprehensive studies done on climate change economics, The Stern Review which was released by the British government in 2006, puts it “climate change is global in its causes and consequences”. The report estimated that a possible 5-6 degrees rise in temperature would mean about 5-10 percent loss in the global GDP. The report also points out that the first countries to get affected will be the poorest ones. It warns that once the impacts become apparent, it will be impossible to go back. Echoing the concern, the Asian Development Bank predicted in 2009 that about 2.2 billion subsistence farmers in Asia were already facing fall in productivity due to floods, draughts, erratic rainfall and other climate change impacts. Combine this with the facts. According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) deforestation is the third biggest reason for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions accounting for about 15-20 percent of the total. Of this, Indonesia is a major contributor. About 17 percent of the total GHG emission from deforestation globally comes from Indonesia.

But this is not all. We are not just would be victims, but culprits for our inaction too. India is the largest importer of palm oil in the world accounting for 19 percent of the total global trade. Majority of this palm oil comes from companies which have been involved in deforestation. Data shows that our consumption of palm oil has been going up without trying to know the source or the impacts it is having on the forests.

There are already indications of what may come up. Thousands lost their lives in Uttarakhand. It will take years for us to reconstruct the state better known for its natural gifts after the fury of the same nature that completely devastated it. While the discussion was still on about whether the human activities could have had their role in the disaster, came the report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body established by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The report established it scientifically for the first time that climate change is manmade. And as if to further strengthen the message Phailin followed, though thankfully the loss in terms of life could be kept in check.

There are no ‘concrete’ proofs that these disasters are manmade. But there are proofs that last few decades have been warmer than ever. There are also proofs that the frequency of natural disasters have gone up. Combined, these are indications for sure if not the ‘concrete’ proofs. Probably if we keep living in denial, we will never have proofs before we start acting. Not before we lose our forests, and with them the wonderful species they are home to.

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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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