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Where Women Rule The Roost: Political Wars Where Women Are Leading From The Front

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 By Bhavya Kumar:

While the participation of women in politics worldwide has seen an increase, a very small number of them actually stand out as the most influential driving forces in their nations’ political dynamics. I find myself fascinated by those who happen to make a difference in a country where it’s hardest to move forward, and also those who, inspite of being at a position to make a difference, tend to falter, but continue to vitalize their own struggles. One needs to look no further than at our neighbours in the east, at Myanmar, Philippines, and South Korea, to find strong women leaders who have and continue to make an impact. While they might seem like an odd bunch of nations to pick, but if you look deep enough, their histories and stories form stages of progress of a nation, and the many struggles it incurs.

three female politicians

 

A recent image of our PM Narendra Modi meeting and shaking hands with the charismatic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a fellow LSR-ian, graced the front pages of many a dailies. Indo-Myanmar relations apart, the picture made me reflect on the country and where it stands currently.  Myanmar as a nation seems to be excited… expectant even. A South-East Asian country with much potential but little material strength, impoverished people and internal strife of multiple sorts, Myanmar’s tryst with being a democracy began way back in 1948. As the political struggle continued, it was the National League for Democracy, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who in 1988 made quite a difference. The dissolution of the military leadership left Myanmar with another kind of problem. It seems gaining independence was only the beginning of a new struggle. The political reforms were and are slow to materialize due to internal political power play of Myanmar. Suu Kyi, now a member of the lower chamber of Burmese Parliament, cannot move forward. It remains to be seen whether or not she will be permitted to contest the 2015 Parliamentary elections, from which she is barred at present, and the many other politico-legal hindrances that continue to hinder her aspirations. Suu Kyi, 69, is one of world’s most prominent political prisoner, with her house arrest lasting for about 21 years; her struggle  for bringing about democracy in the country has received tremendous international support throughout, acknowledged and awarded by many countries, she stands as a hope for many of her fellow countrymen who would like to see her rise to power. What blocks her presidential aspiration is a certain provision in the country’s constitution, concerning marriage to non-Burmese nationals, who are therefore denied the seat of President and Vice President. There has been much debate if the clause should be changed or not. A parliamentary committee voted overwhelmingly against the recommendation, for instance. Democracy has come to the nation, but it still is under the subliminal influence of the very recent past of the military junta. The government still seems to be composed of many who are her political rivals. The reforms are slow to materialize. Suu Kyi’s escalation within the structure will be the maturity of her struggle, and shall, as much expected, start off a new era for Myanmar.

Maintaining stability that has been achieved in the domain of polity and governance is another thing. Going back in time, and a little further to the east, we find an example of this in the Philippines. Corazon Aquino led the People Power Revolution in 1986 in Philippines against the existent authoritarian rule which had been there for about 20 years. After coming to power, she reformed the country’s polity and economy. The 1987 constitution was put into force, which functioned as form of institutional check on the powers of the President, for instance. It focussed greatly on civil liberties and human rights. She’s credited with the restoration of democracy in Philippines. Her economic programs also aimed at reforming the economic policies of the country, for example, tackling the huge amount of debt incurred under her predecessor. She introduced land reforms which sought the redistribution of agricultural lands held by landowners to tenant farmers. Though some of her plans and reforms provoked controversies and unrest among certain sections of the society, her efforts nevertheless were based on simply the requirements of Philippines at that time. In a country where conditions were particularly pathetic, her struggle to pull it together, cutting through multiple barriers to pull Philippines together as a nation was lauded by Filipinos themselves and international observers abroad. Her capacity to mobilize massive plans and able to get these plans implemented brings her out as not only a strong leader but also a capable administrator.

Going just a bit off track, a little to the north is South Korea. It’s a nation best known for its K-drama and its sour feuds with North Korea. Park Geun-hye, the President of Republic of Korea is the strong female force leading this nation. Her policies within South Korea deal with economic revival, and she is known for her pro-market orientation. She also started out a campaign to eradicate “Four Evils of the Society” which deal with sexual and domestic violence as well, since South Korea is a country where gender discrimination works under the surface but is still very much alive and functioning. A capable administrator, and known for keeping up her commitments with the country, she has handled the South Korean foreign policy extremely well. South Korea finds itself in a neighbourhood which recently became quite dynamic considering the Japanese increasing aggression and eagerness to balance out China’s power in the Asia-Pacific. Nevertheless, despite being very close ally of the US in the region, South Korea under her leadership has also found support from China. Looking at her “Korean Unification Plan”, the first thing that comes to my mind is the entirely different perspective of the other Korea, but surprisingly, the plan is very well structured, which has started out with the “Trust-Building” Process, which intends to collaborate with North Korea on small-scale schemes, which shall build up to further stages of unification. In my view, while the current activities of North Korea are staunchly opposed by the South Koreans, there still is an effort to start a process of amelioration to tackle the chances of getting embroiled into conflicts in the future. Apart from that, South Korea and Russia too have held a fairly productive bilateral conference, indicating the country’s active endeavour to seek support in alleviating tensions from the Korean peninsula with the help of various other nations.

Now, I admit not all the endeavours of these leaders have been received well. In the case of Suu Kyi, her silence on the Rohingya crisis brought her much criticism while she was expected to take an action. Aquino, during her term, saw a terrible unleashing of natural calamities that disrupted life in Philippines, against which, she was helpless. Some of her reforms also brought harsh criticisms. As for Park, her influence on Asia-Pacific politics isn’t exactly independent and one can point out flaws with the increasing Korean dependence on the US, and at the same time, making an effort to ameliorate with the North. But, in that case, no leader can be expected to be the epitome of the ideal, especially when they are holding power that creates ripples within the society and outside the society where the exercise power. These women have been extremely successful in the fields they dedicated themselves to, and that too, in difficult situations respectively. Political liberty and stability, economic disparities and differences and ultimately, maintaining good relations with other members of the international community are some of the major priorities of a nation, and women in these countries have demonstrated to the world brilliantly how prowess, influence and capacity, doesn’t always pertain to social distinctions made between men and women.

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  1. Monistaf

    Women ruled the roost closer to home as well, Mrs. Indira Gandhi for 15 + 4 = 19 years and arguably Sonia Gandhi for the last 10. Wasn’t there anything nice to say about their accomplishments? How about Benazir Bhutto or Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh? Women leaders are nothing new in South Asia and like all leaders, have had their fair share of failures and triumphs. They are no better or worse than anyone else.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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