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Not Just Make-Up Artists, Women In Jobs You Wouldn’t Have Thought

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By Prakruti Maniar:

The Supreme Court last week asked the Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA) to allow female make-up artists in the film industry. It’s a practice that for the past 59 years, has restricted women to hairstyling jobs. What’s  even worse, they have had to work in the background, share their credits and salary with men (who don’t do the work) because of this clause in the Association’s Constitution.

sakha driver
Picture credit: Sakha Cabs

This marks a sort of half-victory for petitioner Charu Khurana, who fought a year-long legal battle and went through over five years of professional struggle. When I spoke to her, she still hadn’t received a membership to the union, which is a pre-requisite to work on films and she confided that there was a deep resentment in the union regarding the decision. So much so that she went to file her application after the order, with police protection.

My first reaction to the judgment was one of bewilderment – the fact that women were not allowed to work as make-up artists seems to defy logic, and social convention. How do you even separate blush and lipstick from us? It was bizarre.

When speaking to Charu, another realization hit me hard. “Have you ever seen women hairstylists  anywhere around some of the biggest stars of our country?” she asked me. I hadn’t even noticed.

So I looked around me. What were the women doing? Handling boutiques, working in banks, and so many other things. Yet, men far outnumbered them – from the closest nariyal paaniwala to drivers of public transport, in shops and bars, in films and behind the scenes too.

I was reminded of my childhood – I loved a game called Mechanix – a construction game for kids complete with tiny spanners and nuts and bolts. Yet I can’t recall thinking about engineering seriously. Educationally, we have moved forward from that era. In USA, women make for only 12 per cent of engineers and only 6.3 per cent of engineering managers are women. Are we focusing too much on academics, less on its application then?

There is no need for a Rise of The Planet of the Women where we barge into every male bastion just to prove a point, but what is it that keeps women in the background? Is it society? It’s probably that we haven’t even thought of the possibilities of certain occupations. I decided to look this up. And there they were, the women pioneers who are slowly but surely making their way into what are considered to be essentially ‘male’ professions, a glance:

Mechanics – How many of us have ever fixed a car or even a leaking faucet? Meet Shanti Devi, who started out as a tea-stall owner and expanded, along with her husband into repairs. For about a decade now, she has been a truck mechanic. Yes, trucks. On the Delhi route, where they had their tea-stall, it seemed a logical step forward. And her story is a fine example of how common sense and hardwork defy odds, that no ‘rural’ tag can stop you from doing anything you want or must.

Take another case – that of Savita Kabirdas, from Choti Madhaiyan fondly called “Mechanic Sir” in her village. She has the responsibility of repairing hand-pumps. That’s not all. The Washington Post did a story on her 10 years back in 2004! For a social environment where women bring water from the pumps, how convenient it is that they know how to fix it? Kabirdas and her team are among 45 illiterate lower-caste women in the district who were trained 10 years ago in pump repair.

The impact is multi-fold. Not only do women set an example but also in times of crisis such as a broken water pump, people forget caste prejudices. This social impact indeed, is as important as the gender impact.

On a side note – have you ever met a female plumber?

Public transport – “Bhaiya, insert place chaloge?” As a resident of Mumbai, buses, rickshaws and taxis are my home. I fear to travel late hours by these modes and even so, have never questioned why women never drove them (not even after Bachchna Ae Haseeno).

In March 2014, 341 woman auto drivers received permits to drive autos.  Yet, one hardly sees them on Mumbai roads.  Even before that, Anita Kudtarkar, from Vasai, became the first female rickshaw driver in 2010, braving many odds, including questioning attitudes by her co-drivers. 50 others were trained with her a decade ago. None hit the roads.

It isn’t always a pleasant experience to break the patriarchal pattern of things. Ask Yogita Raghuvanshi, who, in 2013 set heads turning (few with an approving glance) as she steered a truck carrying 16-tonnes of potatoes into the APMC market at Vashi in 2013, amid catcalls and much booing.  It was her determination to be unaffected that finally won others to her cause.

Fire-fighters – Globally, women have been fire-fighters for a long time. It wasn’t until 2003 that India got its first woman in the team of men ‘who serve to save’ – a motto that inspired Meenakshi Vijayakumar. She joined the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Service in 2003 as a Divisional Officer,  after a gruelling six-month training session.  In 2012, Mumbai (Wadala Fire Station) inducted five women fire-fighters, because there had been complaints by victims that they didn’t feel comfortable being rescued by men.  Other states have followed with baby steps. Without women themselves participating and coming ahead, they will never be anything more.

Bouncers – Let’s shift our focus to the happy hours of modern life – bars. Big burly men, towering over everyone, clad in all black, have achieved symbolic status. Refusing to let this stereotype stop her from earning her living, Sunita became a bouncer in 2008. Women in bars do not paint a pretty picture but things changed eventually, she said to BBC in 2013.

This trend is increasing, especially on occasions like the New Year when extra hands are needed. Chandigarh, Punjab, Delhi are all seeing women bouncers, especially given the security concern in the NCR.

Bartenders – We can’t leave them behind can we? This is probably the coolest of jobs and one where urban India finally finds a voice – women from leading metros have taken up bartending as a profession. Aided by (yet another) landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in 2007 that changed a law that barred women from tending bars in the NCR, today they are less rare than before.

Collete Pereira, one of the first women to take up the profession had said in an interview, “It is interesting to see how mainstream media usually portrays bartenders, even in the West – take Moe from The Simpsons or Nick Miller from New Girl”

Combat – In January 2013, the U.S military ended its policy excluding women from combat jobs and opened direct combat units to female troops.

In India, since 1992 women have been a part of the army, but not on the frontlines. In August 2014, IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha hinted at the possibility – of women in combat. The CRPF, for the first time, has deployed women paramilitary troops to fight the Naxals in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh –  makes sense, given that women constitute nearly 50 percent of the Maoist forces. This however, is an exception.

Train Drivers – Eleven years ago, Surekha Yadav became Asia’s first female passenger train driver in Mumbai and since then 50 others have followed. She was also responsible for the inclusion of for-women-only trains, having been witness to harassment, personally driving the Lady’s Special into Victoria Terminus for inauguration.


These women are examples that if you think big enough, the obstacles won’t seem too big to conquer – without reservations, that too.

Engineers, chiropractors, detectives, investigating officers, pilots, – why, pan shop owners, brewers, butchers, driving instructors, F1 racer –anything you want, you can be.

The core of feminism is to give women an opportunity, yet if we continue to have blocked minds and narrow visions about the size of the actual playing field, it won’t be enough. We have degrees, we demand for equal pay, we demand to wear what we want, we ask the boys to help at home, we speak against violence and we stand up to every challenge life throws at us. Now, it is time to think about whether we are truly looking at the big picture. It is time to question what we see, the dominating presence or absence of males and/or females. Not because we are rebels, but because equality is still a little farther down the road, and we want to reach it quicker.

You must be to comment.
  1. AgniR

    Nice :).

    A positive article after a long time.

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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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