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The Story Behind Red Nose Day That’s Bigger Than Coldplay’s Game Of Thrones Musical

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By Nikhil Umesh

This past month, a lot of buzz was generated around Coldplay’s “Game of Thrones: The Musical.” The 12-minute skit was featured on the NBC’s three-hour “Red Nose Day” special, with the charity announcing that over $21 million USD in donations were brought in following Coldplay’s now-viral performance — it has garnered over 10 million views on YouTube.

But perhaps you’re wondering something I’ve been thinking, as well: what exactly is “Red Nose Day“?

red nose day

Red Nose Day is a telethon which happens every other year in Britain. It is run by Comic Relief, a British charity founded in 1985 with the aim of addressing famine in Ethiopia. The first Red Nose Day was held on February 8, 1988, and since then has raised over one billion pounds in its efforts to alleviate global poverty.

Coldplay’s viral performance happened in conjunction with the first Red Nose Day held in the United States on May 21, 2015. Musicians, actors, and various celebrities were featured on NBC to entertain audiences and encourage them to donate.

The website for Red Nose Day states that it was “…created out of the firm belief that the power of mass media and high-profile celebrities can raise awareness of issues of poverty to change and save millions of lives.

So, the question arises: is Red Nose Day an initiative worth supporting or would one be better off putting their labours and funds elsewhere?

Comic Relief pays their partnering charities in installments, consequently the money they are withholding is invested to “try and make it into even more money.” In December of 2013, the BBC uncovered that funds amounting to millions of pounds were invested in tobacco, alcohol, and arms. These investments were in clear contradiction to the organization’s purported values in their mission statement, such as helping “people affected by conflict” and “working to reduce alcohol misuse and minimise alcohol related harm.

The organization’s lack of ethical frameworks for investment is cause for alarm. Divestment, which is the practice of liquidating assets in certain firms due to political, ethical, and financial reasons, has historically been a strategy for creating social change. We can look back to the historical case for divesting from South Africa’s apartheid regime and the current Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement challenging Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Comic Relief states on their website that they work to “tackle the root causes of poverty and social injustice.

Charity has long been a strategy to alleviate inequities. However, charitable giving should be contextualized and not seen as a silver bullet solution to social injustices. I’d caution against Red Nose Day and Comic Relief touting that they are tackling the “root causes of poverty.” Because their investments seem to indicate they’re rather complicit in upholding oppressive industries and institutions.

Comic Relief’s philanthropic deeds coinciding with shady investments is emblematic of the West’s “White Savior Industrial Complex,” where the well-to-do and their home governments are attempting to “save” Global South nations. Writer Teju Cole, in a controversial series of tweets in 2012, fired one off saying that: “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex,” a book by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, argues that we need to deepen our imaginations and envision social change that is not beholden to corporatist ideals and praxis: large philanthropic foundations that control capital and decide where and to whom money will be given.

Instead, getting to the roots of problems will require grassroot social movements, and not the sedation of struggles against exploitative transnational corporations and corrupt governmental regimes.

But I believe we can be political in the way and to whom we give. Capitalism isn’t ending soon, and given already existing class hierarchies, wealth redistribution must be on the agenda.

Alok Vaid-Menon, a U.S. based queer South Asian artist, writes of the need for those of us who are class-privileged to redistribute money to social movements: “We can all sit around and discuss our dreams of capitalism somehow imploding but the reality of the situation is it’s still probably going to be here tomorrow. Oppressed communities are still going to need resources. Queer people and people of color are not just concepts, critical theories, or abstractions – they are communities of people who can benefit from material support.

So, for those of us who have the capacity to give, please do so. But let’s make sure money is channeled to working class social movements, individuals experiencing multiple and interlocking forms of oppression, and all those who are challenging hegemonic systems, rather than corporate initiatives preoccupied with doling out your “good deed of the day” certificate.

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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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