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How One Initiative Is Utilizing The Delhi Metro To Make Girls Count

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By Soumya Raj:

What is common between these incidents: Gauhar Khan getting slapped for wearing short clothes; the Hindu Mahasabha’s ban on jeans and cell phones for women and the Uber cab rape case?

Answer: It was never the fault of the woman and she never asked for it.

Sadly, these incidents are a recurring affair in the headlines. They reflect the deep-set belief that women need to be told how to behave – that somehow, their sexuality needs to be controlled; so much so that she is even denied the right to her own body, to bear a child or not.

We flaunt a progressive mindset but function within our patriarchal boundaries. The preference for a son traverses beyond geography, income and levels of education. The urban landscape is guilty as charged. Delhi as the national capital has a dismal child sex ratio of 871 girls.

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Girls Count, a coalition of civil society organisations and activists from across the country have come together to address the issue of the declining child sex ratio of our country. The campaign recently found its’ visibility across the Delhi Metro. I visited the canopies across the metro stations to see how the public perception is surfacing to an issue limited to the four walls of a home.

The answers were more than fulfilling. A participant, Priya, signing the petition at Shahdara, very aptly puts it, “Humein betiyon ko na maar ke, unn paramparaon ko maarna chahiye jo betiyon ka bahishkaar karte hain.” (Instead of killing daughters, we should end those traditional beliefs that make us abandon girls.)

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‘Girls Count’ very simply highlights the issue at hand- the declining child sex ratio in India standing at a dismal 918 girls. At the same time, the name in itself emphasises the dire need to deal with the inherent preference for a son and make girls ‘count’.

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The attendant at the booth, Pooja Sharma, a confident young woman in her early 20s, is glad somebody is taking the initiative. She says she is scared of nothing, and will take the movement ahead alone if the need be. Sometimes, people are not interested in what they are trying to put across, but other times, there are people like Pooja.

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An overwhelming majority of men and women consider having at least one son in the family of utmost importance. As a matter of fact, 81% women and 76% men feel so.

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“This campaign on Declining Child Sex Ratio is unique in terms of its connect with an urban populace. The outreach achieved by the campaign has exceeded our expectations. We were approached by women and men, girls and boys from different walks of life who wanted to share their personal stories and experiences of discrimination. Many people spoke about how they were taking a stance for their daughters and wanted them to aspire and advance in life. At the same time, people also spoke about the invisibility of women and girls in public spaces and expressed their disappointment with the lack of adequate safety and security measures, and other factors that leads to the ‘unwantedness’ of daughters. People also suggested concrete measures to enhance the value of girls through stringent action against clinics that violate the law against sex determination and sex selection, support for girls schooling and higher education, and measures to ensure safety of girls within homes, in public spaces and in the workplace. We believe the campaign has triggered a dialogue and thought process, at an individual level of challenging discriminatory values and norms”, said Rizwan Parwez, Coordinator, Girls Count.

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The boon of technology can do wonders when it comes to detecting gender anomalies or any birth complications. However, the same technology is often misused to detect the sex of the foetus. This choice to ‘pick and choose’ ones family composition has resulted in a skewed child sex ratio of 918 girls. The idea of masculinity plays a huge role in ingraining a strong son preference in our attitudes. The challenge of dealing with such perceptions requires a change in the mindset that devalues girls.

You must be to comment.
  1. thethaggu

    Wow! That’s an amazing initiative to take. You go girl!

  2. Monistaf

    I am against the barbaric practice of femicide as much as everyone else on this forum, but I am not going to do it by challenging the mythical “Patriarchy” which has all too often become a scapegoat for any and all gender related issues. When it comes to female infanticide, the buck stops with the mother. She has the ultimate say in whether she wants an abortion or not. No one can force (At least legally) a woman to abort her baby. So, in my opinion, the real solution to the problem is to educate and empower women to assert their constitutional right to have their babies.

  3. harshit

    i wanna support this Initiative and support your team…. i want to be a member of team i have many volunteers who can support your Initiative in delhi – ncr and also in lucknow and its nearby districts

  4. Dr.K.K.Dixit

    Girls count campaign seems effective in the mind of people .

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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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