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Lady Gaga’s Latest Video On Sexual Assault On Campus Has A Powerful Message For All

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By Rohini Banerjee for Cake

Till it happens to you, you won’t know, how it feels,” goes the poignant refrain of Lady Gaga’s new single, which is an attempt to start a conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. A rock ballad about the aftermath of trauma, the song expresses that sexual violence is something that has to be experienced to be fully understood.

The video unfolds as a companion piece to ‘The Hunting Ground‘, a documentary about campus sexual violence that was released last February, and shows sexual violence in three circumstances—one, where a woman is raped by a co-worker for refusing his romantic advances; another, where a transgender person is bullied and subsequently raped by a transphobic man; and finally, date rape, where a man spikes the drinks of two women at a party and then proceeds to rape them while they’re unconscious. All these three instances are derived from common occasions of sexual abuse that are prevalent across various college campuses.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, carried a mattress all around campus for a whole year to protest against her alleged rapist going scot free, and still being on campus. Despite filing official complaints, and a subsequent university trial, her alleged rapist was not found guilty by authorities. Hence, Emma, a Visual Arts student, made a powerful statement by carrying around the mattress, which simultaneously became a part of her performance art thesis and an important campaign to shed much-needed light on an issue that is often suppressed, pushed under the carpet, and dismissed.

In a survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, 27.2 percent of female college seniors reported that, since entering college, they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact — ranging from non-consensual touching to rape — carried out by incapacitation, usually due to alcohol or drugs, or by force. 13.5 percent—nearly half— had experienced penetration, attempted penetration or oral sex. Transgender students and others who do not identify as either male or female had higher rates of assault than women. Nearly 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities took part in this survey, which included all Ivy League institutions (except Princeton) and many other prominent campuses within the United States. Even in the most serious cases of assault, almost three-fourths of victims did not report the episode to anyone in authority, let alone law enforcement. The common reason cited for this was either shame, or their fear of not being taken seriously. Even when reports were registered, often proper justice was not meted out to the victims.

Like Sulkowicz’s mattress campaign, Lady Gaga’s video is a similar attempt to bring to public attention the atrocities of campus violence. With the lady gaga snapchat as the medium, her message is being spread. The video is not just about facing sexual violence, but coming to terms with what comes after. It is about what it means to be a survivor, and how society perceives you as a result of that. The widespread silencing, rejection, and ostracism shown towards sexual assault is truly appalling. The laws and reforms that exist to address cases of sexual violence are often prejudiced, or severely lacking in providing proper justice. Though US President Barack Obama made an attempt to create a White House task force to deal with the increasing cases of college sexual assault; cases of rape and unwanted sexual contact are still staggeringly frequent, as the aforementioned AAU survey illustrates.

There are potent scenes in Lady Gaga’s video in which assault victims try to come to terms with their bodily autonomy through inscribing messages in various body parts. There are inscriptions which talk about dealing with depression and low self-worth (“I am worthless”) and about their societal ostracism (“believe me”, “listen—you will hear me”). These messages become a compelling example of what these victims face on a daily basis.

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What is most important about the video is its somewhat positive conclusion, where all the victims come together and lend each other support to deal with each of their personal traumas. Where legal and legislative reforms to counter assault are often inadequate, the strongest weapon to fight against sexual violence is perhaps solidarity and empathy. That is the larger message this song tries to convey—to try and understand what these people have to go through, and to try to put ourselves in their shoes and see the world from their eyes. Only then can some headway be made in providing them with the justice they deserve. It is telling that the final message inscribed on their bodies is “I love myself”, portraying the gradual journey from self-loathing to self-love. This demonstrates, how showing unconditional love, support and acceptance towards people who go through such horrifying experiences can go a long way in helping them battle their demons and give them the courage to fight against their abusers. A fight that belongs to not just them, but all of us.

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This article was originally published on Cake.

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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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