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Why My Paranoia And My Gender Go Hand In Hand

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I was at a guy-friend’s place in New Delhi, with his friends, when the paranoia first hit me. We were metaphorically high on good stuff and it was new for me to be an outsider in the company of unknown people in that state. My entire trip was a roller coaster of anxiety, and then I thought I heard someone say, “Man she’s got a rape-face!” as he looked at me, amused. A casual statement like that triggered in me a paranoia that knocked my breath out and left me feeling like I was going to be preyed upon by the men there. That’s what I remember from that day – a sense of humiliation at being seen terrified of something that does terrify me to no end – the imminent, omnipresent threat of physical, sexual violence in its crudest form.

My first and the most hard-hitting thoughts during a trip would generally revolve around being irrationally uncertain of the intentions of the men I happened to be getting baked with, however familiar I was with them – quite natural, considering the brutally misogynistic space we live in. But the paranoia got worse. I remember freaking out, while tripping with my boyfriend once, when I heard some footsteps stop outside the door, followed by the sounds of pictures being taken on a mobile phone. This anxiety eventually seeped into my daily life.

Consequently, I would feel acutely aware of the threat of violence and hatred in the most ordinary of things. While visiting my partner’s place, I noticed a perceptible shift in the gaze and the mannerisms of his neighbours over a period of a few months – whether it was a group of men whispering in Hindi, “It’s the bed mate!” or the nearby chemist once smirking and asking if I needed the i-pill that day. I remember breaking down and wanting to leave everything behind in Delhi at that point of time.

Talking to my flatmate, I realised I am not alone in this. It’s the paranoia that haunts us after having seen two of our close friends go through shocking instances of sexual harassment in the lanes of Vijay Nagar, the part of Delhi I live in. My flatmate and I would wake up with terrible nightmares around that time, but I never had to ask her what it was she had dreamt; there was a silent acceptance of the terror we were both dealing with. Any sound or stray footsteps outside our flat, and we would both sit up, having already talked about the objects we would use to hit an intruder if we had to. Yet another night, while talking of getting a lock for the fence outside our door was when I could finally validate this paranoia, in her presence.

I live in a perpetual fear of something terrible happening, whether it’s the fear of being targeted with water balloons during the festival of Holi, or the fear of being raped or killed, when outside after the evening hours. There’s a fear of walking on the streets and being noticed by men as I adjust the neckline of my clothes. There is a fear of abortion of a foetus conceived without consent that wakes me up from my sleep in cold sweat. But there is so much more that cannot be written down. And I know that most women have felt this fear, in one form or the other.

We live such gendered lives! So much of what I live through, experience, think, and want is, in direct as well as in very complex, intricate ways, dictated to me by my gender AND my sex. I face the consequences of being a woman AND having a female’s body every living second, and how! I have been living like this for so long, but only after experiencing that paranoia, could I begin to comprehend how exhausting it is to live with this gender, despite the privileges I enjoy. Being a cisgender woman, I cannot even begin to imagine the kind of fears and anxieties that people of trans-gender or non-binary identities must have to face!

It is so important to raise our voices against this discrimination. It is important to talk about the intensity of what women feel because of certain gestures that some people find insignificant or funny. A lot of general anxiety that the individuals of under-privileged genders suffer from is often triggered by the inherent violence and the sense of entitlement that some men exhibit and possess over the women’s bodies, which many a times dictates a huge chunk of women’s quality of living. Our mental health, to a huge extent, is defined by our genders, and the way the external world wants to claim and threaten our bodies.

These fears have been voiced by many before me. The threat of violation is very real for many women, and those in privileged positions need to know this. Many women are afraid of men, and are being called hysterical for it, and that is extremely problematic. Men need to recognise the privilege they have over women, and people need to understand how such dynamics work across class, caste, race and gender.

It is the invisible, insignificant, every-day problems and disparities that make up the lived experience of one half of the people of the world. Wouldn’t it be wise to understand these signs and work at effectively addressing this issue with as much detail as we can?

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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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