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War And Peace In The ‘International City Of Peace & Justice’

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By Karthik Shankar:

Sometimes feeling the weight of history can be intensely profound. The First and Second Hague Conference led to a plethora of international agreements on war crimes known as the Hague Conventions. The third scheduled for 1915 was indefinitely postponed, ironically due to the start of the World War I. A hundred years later, I was among more than eighty participants who gathered from around the globe for The Third Hague Peace Conference.

Image source: Hague University of Applied Sciences, Jav Aria
Image source: Hague University of Applied Sciences, Jav Aria

Organised by The Hague University of Applied Sciences, we were selected for the three day summit on the basis of our essays to achieve peace. The winning essay was a treatise on how to reform peacekeeping particularly in African nations. My own essay focused on shortcomings in the Geneva Conventions specifically with regards to the definition of civilians and how that implicates them at a time when terrorism has led to the evolution of war from one between two countries to a transnational armed conflict between state and non-state actors. Among the veritable trove of solutions by participants, quirky ideas were in abundance. One floated the usage of bitcoin as a multilateral currency to reduce economic turf wars. Another advocated the formation of an army controlled by the United Nations as opposed to troops loaned to them for peacekeeping.

At a time when violence and strife still continue to plague our world, being part of such a conference felt incredibly gratifying. Given that the city houses the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, its moniker ‘international city of peace and justice’ is rightfully earned. Coincidentally, the conference took on a larger magnitude as protests had erupted in response to an Aruban tourist dying in police custody. Even the city of peace was not exempt from the schisms between law enforcement and the general public.

Fittingly, the conference kicked off at the Peace Palace. We were treated to a variety of insightful seminars. Ton Koene, a photographer was candid enough to admit that his foray into documenting the effects of war was motivated by a sense of adventure, not altruism. However his photographs also demonstrated his repeated resilience to engage with victims of conflict, something most of us turn a blind eye to. Joris Voorhoeve, the former Minister of Defence for Netherlands was another notable speaker. While at times, his stance came off as “democracy can fix anything!” he also demonstrated a keen and broad-minded view of global politics. We also listened with rapt attention to Maryam Faghih Imani, an Iranian activist and scholar, whose family has political links to Ayatollah Khameini. Her hard-fought access to education came at a cost since it meant leaving behind her conservative family and homeland.

Workshops also helped me formulate ideas. One of them focused on the ways in which social media could be used as a tool for peace, as it was when Israelis and Iranians ignored their leaders’ warmongering in 2012 and posted messages of solidarity and support for each other. That workshop also had us concoct ideas for social media campaigns that encouraged community harmony in face of the violent demonstrations that had broken out in The Hague.

Some of most insightful discussions about war and peace however, took place in the post-conference hours, over pints of beer. My Ukrainian roommate spoke about how his country’s conflict with Russia was forcing the army to enlist young people with just three months of training. Another roommate from Hong Kong spoke about participating in the Umbrella Revolution and the gulf in political ideology that existed between him and his parents. I also got a better understanding about Kurdish identity and politics from a Kurd raised in Germany and witnessed a friendly ribbing between India and Pakistan.

The conference further augmented this by having five participants address peace from a purely personal perspective. Alexa Magee, an American spoke from the perspective of a citizen whose country is always at war. Takashi Mori, a Japanese national relayed his experiences working with injured children in the Gaza strip. The most soul-stirring speech however came from Miracle Uche, a Nigerian who spoke about the horrors of civil war in her country and how ethnic fractures in a community were still present even thousands of miles from home. Her speech truly resonated with me for its searing honesty and I was struck by how the divisions she spoke of could easily apply to an Indian context as well.

It was viewing the concepts of war and peace through a personal prism that defined the summit. Peace wasn’t just an abstract concept for all of us. We grappled with the ramifications of warfare on a daily basis, either directly or indirectly. It made me cogitate about the Kashmir conflict, the Naxalite problem and the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and wish there was an immediate end in sight. It also heightened my pacifist tendencies.

What we wanted was a political infrastructure that bridged the gap between the real world and our utopian ideas of the world we wanted to live in. Three days was all it took but it made us understand how inextricably linked all our collective fates were. We gathered in a city of less than a million inhabitants where decisions could be made that had positive outcomes in countries thousands of miles away. My political conscience was already awake, but now it was alive and roaring. Peace was our religion, and we, its extremely enthusiastic demagogues.

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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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