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How Citizens Can Help Achieve the Goals On Women And Child Health

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By Karthik Shankar:

Vinita Devi, a ward member of the north Panchayat of Sitamarhi district, Bihar, comes from a humble background. She did not receive formal education and her husband sells vegetables to make ends meet. Yet this did not stop her from affecting change in her community. After learning about her rights as a ward member, under the women’s leadership program supported by the NGO, Centre for Catalyzing Change, she started to mobilise her community members on women’s issues. She has been pushing women in her village to ensure they get timely immunisation, antenatal check-up at the VHSND and avail family planning services from the Health Sub Centre monitoring service delivery through standardized checklists.

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A similar primer on her rights inspired Meera Kumari, a ward member from Muzaffarpur to press her community on different issues like health and hygiene, immunization, education, right age of marriage etc.

Vinita and Meera’s cases are examples of how ordinary citizens and elected representatives can play a significant role in ensuring service delivery and uptake. Their roles become critical especially in the context of communities that continue to grapple with high maternal and neonatal deaths.

India has made significant strides in lowering the maternal mortality rates and the National Health Mission (erstwhile NRHM) has made both financial and service commitments to ensure safe birthing and better neonatal health, in sync with the UN supported Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the MDG Framework looked at broad targets around reducing maternal mortality and neo-natal mortality (MDG 4 and MDG 5), the post 2015 agenda that brings in a new set of international targets called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)which are envisioned to have disaggregated targets specific to countries and regions. There are already a list of proposed SDGs from poverty eradication, gender equality and sustainable development. Essentially, the SDGs will become the new flag bearer for development agendas everywhere and will define the UN agenda for several initiatives including the ambitious $40 billion Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health.

All these are noble endeavours but they raise as many questions as answers. What do the proposed targets on women and children’s health actually mean in the national context? The proposed list of seventeen goals uses the word ‘inclusive’ six times. In such an instance the only way in which such targets can become inclusive is if they involve the general public through various strategies.

With the development of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, 2015 marks a critical opportunity to establish frameworks to accelerate action on maternal, newborn and child health. Within these frameworks, global and national accountability systems which both monitor and drive the delivery of promises on women’s and children’s health, should be put in place to support targets on maternal, newborn and child health. Such accountability mechanisms must include the direct engagement of citizens.

White Ribbon Alliance is working with World Vision International, IPPF, Save the Children and many other partners to organise national and district level Citizen’s Hearings in at least 30 countries in the first half of 2015. These hearings provide a structure for civil society to give recommendations on national mechanisms for accountability, which must be addressed in the updated Global Strategy and the SDGs.

The concept of a National Citizens Hearing is based on the key recommendation relating to civil society from the Independent Expert Review Group (iERG). ‘From 2015 onwards, hold a civil-society-led World Health Forum adjacent to the World Health Assembly to strengthen political accountability for women’s and children’s health. The purpose of the Forum would be to bring all parties with an interest in global health together at the time of the World Health Assembly—to hold the intergovernmental process accountable to the citizens of countries, and to facilitate and coordinate action by non-government actors. This World Health Forum would be an important contribution to the democratisation of global health.’

While the MDGs were instrumental in the coalescing of development goals worldwide, they were less successful when it came to the implementation of these goals. One of the shortcomings of the MDGs was that it did not take into account the harshly different realities of various countries, from an economic, social and political point of view. The SDGs must rectify that error by making citizens and civil society an integral part of the accountability process for these goals. Given that equity is one of the cruxes of the SDGs, what better way to ensure that than bring in the general public into the process of consensus building for women and children health goals?

Accountability to the public will ensure that these goals truly become a participatory process in which citizens have as much say as governments, corporations and NGOs

In carrying forward its legacy of people led advocacy and bringing together a diverse range of stakeholders to ideate, deliberate and constructively dialogue to further women’s and children’s health in India, the White Ribbon Alliance in India and collaborating partners Centre for Catalyzing Change, Save the children, IPPF, FPAI, RMNCH+A coalition, World Vision India, Plan India are hosting a National Meeting on Citizen’s Participation and Engagement for Improving Women’s and Children’s health under the global campaign banner of Nothing About Us, Without Us.

Time is limited to ensure that people like Vinita and Meera have a say but it could make all the difference between setting the goals and achieving them.

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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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