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In Jamia – How #PadsAgainstSexism Turned Into People Against Sanitary Pads

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By Kainat Sarfaraz:

When four undergraduate students of Jamia Millia Islamia decided to emulate artist Elonë Kastratia’s project Pads Against Sexism, little did they know that it would be a difficult terrain to tread on. The initiative began in Karlsruhe where Elonë took street art activism to a different level altogether. She decided to combat sexism using feminist messages inscribed on sanitary napkins.

pads against sexism
Source: Pads Against Sexism – Delhi

Inspired by her, Mejaaz, Mohit, Sameera and Kaainat, decided to start the project on their own campus of Jamia Millia Islamia. But they were not applauded by the administration for their brave attempt. The sanitary pads were pulled down and the students were issued a show-cause notice. The university has sought an explanation for their actions by 31st March, 2015. If the authorities are not satisfied with their reasoning, a disciplinary committee will be set up and action will be taken against these four students.

According to the University officials, it is not the message that they object. It is the medium through which they chose to do this and also the fact that the students had not sought prior permission to put up the messages. Thus they had to be pulled down, just like the other posters that are put up without permission. When I asked them if I too could start this campaign after seeking permission, they answered in the affirmative. But would they grant permission for such an initiative? There is a process which will decide that, said an administrative official who did not want to be named. The Chief Proctor was unavailable for a comment.

Authorities at Jamia have said that students and faculty members have raised verbal objections on seeing sanitary napkins around the campus. In case you are wondering who in this day and age can voice complaints on seeing pads, you should follow this thread on Jamia Journal’s page and see for yourself. Comments like “Menstrual blood is pure. ‘Activists’ should begin by performing menstrual blood transfusion on themselves. Only that will show that they ACTUALLY believe in gender equality #fashionableActivism”, will make you sick in the gut.

And here is just another one – “Displaying it in campus and indirectly targeting boys of Jamia is something very disturbing and sad…You have to maintain the discipline of particular atmosphere and Jamia is not the place to hang out naked or to show how modern you are. There are some things in our society which should be hidden.” I could go on and on about the comments. But that would give these people the attention they don’t deserve.

These are the people who need a cloak of social media to vent their ‘opinions’. If someone actually wanted to understand this campaign or truly critique it rationally, they could easily contact the initiators of this project. In an interview with this gang of four, they told me that nobody had come up and shown objection to their campaign on their face. “Till now, it is just online hostility”, they say.

When asked about the reason why they decided to link sexism and rape with sanitary napkins, Sameera Mudgal explains, “At any point of time, if you are shunning a woman just because she is menstruating, which is a biological function, it suppresses a whole gender. And when you suppress a gender you give rise to something like rape culture because rape is not just sexuality, its dominance and power.” Thus, it becomes important to remove the taboo that is attached with menstruation and treat it as just another bodily function.

The campaign has now shifted from the campus to places like Hauz Khas. When I asked them if they had any plans on taking this initiative further, Mejaaz says “We’ve been brainstorming but there is nothing set in stone because of what recently happened with us. We are expecting a backlash. So we have to see how it goes on from here.”

Being a student of Jamia myself, I am quite proud of the fact that the University has been vocal about gender equity and empowerment of women to bring about equality. So why were the faculty members and students ‘repugnant’ on seeing a sanitary pad? Is this one of those examples where our thoughts and actions do not go hand in hand?

Pads Against Sexism that started in Jamia Milia Islamia University has found momentum in Jadavpur University and now in Delhi University – against rising sexism in our society. You can read more such stories from campuses across India at Campus Watch, and #RaiseYourVoice!

You must be to comment.
  1. Vanshika

    Just out of curiosity, how does displaying pads with anti-sexist messages equal ‘indireclty targeting boys’?

  2. krishna

    happy not to be a part of jamia islamia

    1. Kainat Sarfaraz

      Do not let one action cloud your judgement on Jamia. For instance, sexual harassment complaints are taken very seriously here.

  3. Like I give a shit about you fake modern feminists.

    First. Feminism is about equality not your stupid pads. And don’t ask a guy to leave a seet on the metro for you. YEAH MY ASS EQUAL.

    1. I am a feminist. I can wear what I want!!
    Sorry ladies feminism has nothing to do with what you wear and where you wear it. Feminism is a movement to get equal rights for women in the society. It has nothing to do with your personal preference. You can wear what you want. That is your free will. Please do not drag feminism into this debate.
    2. I am A feminist. I want Equality!!… Err.. Mister please stand up. That’s a ladies seat.
    Ma’am for being equal you should also understand that there will be no reservation of seats for you. If you are capable enough to fight for your rights please be capable enough to stand in the bus.
    3. I am a feminist. I am independent. But I won’t pay my bills because it is a date and it is rude that the man is asking you to go dutch. he should be dumped. He is a loser.
    Sorry yet again. He is not a loser. You are on a date and you ate the food as well. Asking to go dutch that is splitting the bill is perfect as long as you claim to be independent.
    4. I am a feminist. I want equality for women. Omg!! See that girl is wearing such a short dress. She is a slut!
    If you are a feminist please stop slut shaming your own gender. You belong to the same sex. Atleast you should not be biased about them.
    5. I am a feminist. What did I hear? Your husband hit you? Lets go file an FIR!! What you hit your husband?? Yes well done. Lets go file an FIR against him!!
    A feminist would never support anything that is biased towards women. Feminism and female chauvinism are two very different things. We want equal rights for males and females and under no circumstance would we support misbehavior of women towards men.

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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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