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Have You Done Your Part In Stopping The Unprecedented ‘Genocide’ Of The Girl Child?

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By Raagamayee Lingam:

“I felt like we could keep it only if it was a boy and kill it if it was a girl. I just strangled her soon after she was born and buried her. Since we were not having any boys, I killed eight daughters”, says a rural women as if it was an everyday thing to do. The culture she was conditioned in makes it seem like it is. Her face says it all. She didn’t even have the awareness that there were other options! I wonder what a mother goes through when she strangles and buries her newly born daughter.

female foeticide

As I see the documentary “It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words” by Evan Grae Davis, I am struck by the stark reality that even in the modern 21st century that we live in, there are 200 million girls missing all over the world, out of which 50 million are Indians!

I ask myself the question – are we really that oblivious and ignorant? Every single one of us knows that female infanticide exists, but did either one of us ever spare a minute and think about the fact that 10 million female foetuses were aborted in the last two decades only in India? When we think of the reasons for female infanticide, we come up with the most obvious answers: the burden of a girl child, the dowry one has to pay to get her married, etc.

Though the government has taken enough legal measures starting from ‘The Female Infanticide Prevention Act’ in 1870, ‘The Dowry Prohibition Act’ in 1961, ‘The Baby Cradle Scheme” in 1992, ‘The Girl Child Protection Scheme’ in 1991, and ‘The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Revaluation and Prevention of Misuse) Act’ in 1994, we still find ourselves in a place where female infanticide happens everyday.

As I ponder over this, I remember a wonderful speech given by our country’s current HRD minister, Smriti Irani, at the International Women’s Conference this year, and I recall the story she told of a women belonging to a village in Punjab. Her brother made a deal with her husband, that her newly born daughter should be dead or should vanish by the end of the month, only then would the women be allowed back into the house. The husband wanted a son, not another daughter, and he certainly didn’t want the burden of raising and marrying three daughters. So, the woman goes back to her house with her three daughters. That night, she places her daughter in the chilling December cold, out on a bed, without so much as a piece of cloth, and she sits by the bed. Eventually, she falls asleep as she was tired and by the time she wakes up the next day, the sun was up and her 3-day-old daughter, who was completely blue due to the cold, was still alive. That was the moment when a mother asked herself, that if her 3-day-old daughter can fight death, can’t she find the strength to fight her husband for her daughter?

In the state of Tamil Nadu, a woman named Lakshmi gave birth to a daughter and killed her by poisoning her, as she didn’t want to raise two daughters. When asked how could she kill her own child, Lakshmi firmly replied by saying that instead of letting her daughter suffer the way she does, she thought it was better to get rid of her. She said that daughters are liabilities, and how could she possibly bring up two?

In a country where we worship women, why is giving birth to a daughter a sin? Is it because people think that boys can provide livelihood by working whereas girls can’t? And we come back to the age-old question, of  ‘Are women really inferior to men?’ When time and again, women have proven themselves, why are they still considered inferior? Is this misogyny rooted in the fear that men have of female sexuality? Is this antagonism towards women a defensive response by men for absolute power even when they find themselves vulnerable as they completely depend on women for the preservation and continuation of the male sex?

The 2011 Indian census reveals that for every 1000 boys, there are only 914 girls under the age of six years. Which means that for every 1000 boys, at least 60 to 70 girls are killed before they turn six! To avoid unrest, families kill these girls in torturous methods. Be it by poison or dipped in cold water, which causes pneumonia, at the end of the day, girls are being killed.

In her book ‘Sex and Power‘, Rita Banerji concludes that in India, female genocide is never called ‘genocide’; rather, it is represented as a gender ratio, like an arithmetic problem gone awry. She also emphasizes the need to recognize the term ‘genocide’. Gita Aravamudan, in her book ‘Disappearing Daughters‘, compares female genocide to a ‘holocaust’ and ‘serial killing’. She says that a whole gender is getting exterminated in a silent and smoothly executed crime, which leaves no waves in its wake.

Now comes the big question. Is awareness and education enough to stop female infanticide? How would people in rural areas react when they are educated and are left with the stark contrast of the Indian culture and modern culture, when we, who have grown up in the modern urban world, are confused and are striving to find a balance between the modern world and the Indian values we have grown up with? Awareness and education might not be enough, but it’s still a step in the right direction. Change always starts with you. I will be completely cliché and quote ‘Be the change you want to see’, even if you change only one person or your own ideology, you have contributed a step. Now ask yourselves. Have you done your part?

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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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