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When Companies Fighting For The Cause Of Girls End Up Destroying Them #GirlsUp

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By Jason ‘Jayology’ Jeremias and Riddhima Sharma
Edited by Aindrila Chaudhuri

Last week, the #‎GirlsUp‬ summit was held in Washington D.C. The summit’s mission states: “Girls are powerful. When they’re educated, healthy, and safe, they transform their communities” – a statement that clearly dignifies that girls are at their best when they go to school, when they have access to good healthcare and social programming.

Interestingly, it is being funded by corporations directly responsible for the destruction of all the aforementioned! A company whose Israeli Commander stated and I quote, “Without selling a single bomb, gun or F16 fighter, Caterpillar has been supplying the Israeli military with its ‘key weapon’.

girls up summit


How is it that a company that bulldozes the homes of girls in Palestine, is a sponsor for the #GirlsUp summit? ‬‬‬‬‬‬

Maybe, this in consonance is a result of the premier sponsor of the #GirlsUp Summit, The United Nations Foundation, not being au courant or not up to speed about this corporation, Caterpillar’s behaviour. United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food says: “Caterpillar’s D-9 bulldozers have been responsible for destroying agricultural farms, greenhouses, ancient olive groves.” As well as numerous Palestinian homes and sometimes, human lives. This includes the infamous death of Rachel Corrie who was in Palestine to walk girls to the footpaths of their summit – school.

I know, what is one example when measured against the all endearing good, right? So, we probably shouldn’t point out that the summit is in partnership with Girl Rising, which is sponsored by who? USAID! Well, you might ask, what’s the big deal after all? I guess aside from Palestinian girls not being able to #GirlUp, rural Dalit women can’t rise, because: “their wombs are inflated with bicycle pumps” in sterilization camps.

It’s really hard to rise after you’ve suffered a brutal operation where you had no clue what you were being subjected to intentionally. Where you have no informed consent to what happens to your own body. It’s hard to rise when you have a deadly infection, as a result of, as noted in Reuters, medical professionals using “dirty equipment or contaminated medicines“. Nonetheless, if you survive all of this and were somehow able to rise, you actually might be unlucky to be one of the few administered with painkillers and antibiotics “tainted with rat poison“. All sponsored by, whom? Oh that’s right – USAID. By the way, who sponsors the Caterpillar equipment to Israel to do all that damage? Again it’s USAID.

girlupIt’s great though that Michelle Obama is speaking at the conference. It’s great because one of the conference’s target summits is Guatemala. Guatemala is a great framework to project the future of many so called developing nations, or should we rather say recovering nations. Recovering from colonialism, liberalization and neoliberal colonialism.

So now, the question comes, what can they expect to see under Barack Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement? This is an agreement which thrives on structural adjustments manoeuvred through USAID. A trade agreement whose passage was assured by knocking Malaysia off a list of top tier nations as hubs for slavery, which happens to disproportionately encircle the lives of young girls and women. A deal that will prop up slave labour sweat shops and make generic medicines impossible to ascertain in recovering nations, especially for the poor. I did read something in the mission of #GirlsUp about health and education.

So, Mexico and Guatemala are in reality great examples because as noted by Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano in “Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas“, the social program that lost all funding because of these programs, in conjunction with the loss of minimum wage labour for survival fuelled slave wage jobs, induced poverty, with no safety net for social security leading to Violence Against Women and transgender people in both Guatemala and Mexico. So, Michelle can go back to the White House after the conference and relay to Barrack that it would be really useful for the summit’s mission if he doesn’t promote a trade deal that will dismantle what the girls rose up to do for the past four decades, in the long pursuit of their rights.

Nonetheless, I guarantee you that none of the girls who participated today, none of the women from Wesleyan who asked their questions, were made aware of these facts.

Just Stop.

Stop undermining the endless potential of girls. Stop discouraging girls by disrespecting their courage to come forward, to transcend all man made barriers of social privilege. The barriers that try to mute their existence and understanding of the world where girls have rights that need to respected to realise their endless potential. The notion that basic human rights can be enjoyed by some people and not ‘others’ is the most fundamental element of the diverse means of patriarchal subjugation that have totally undermined the message of rising girls in the summit. Any girl should be able to look down upon her accomplishments and find a landscape reflecting the equality to ecology, resources, autonomy, agency, education and justice.

Now, we need to take notice of women’s rights activists around the world from Kavita Krishnan, Asha Kowtal, Chaumtoli Huq, Bree Newsome, Alok Vaid Menon, Shahana Hanif, Carmen Perez, Synead Nichols, Umaara Elliott, Muktasree Chakma Sathi, Banda Pedroza, and Rania Khayyat who step out of the shadows of a genetic historical truth that women have led revolutions, founded universities, moved STEM fields forward and have given us what understanding we have today of justice, liberty, self determination in pursuit of equality.

Today’s champions aren’t celebrities, they aren’t involved in commercial media or government, and they are acting out in courage against these institutions to find a way forward from our present discontents of caste, race, gender, economic rights, housing rights, land rights, ecological preservation and labour rights.

I want to dedicate this article to all the young girls and women who have died in pursuit of this dream and those who are fighting for it today. And especially to Chaiti Bai who was only 22 years old when she died on the floor while recovering from a botched sterilization sponsored by USAID.

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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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