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What Good Is The Promise Of Inclusive Education If It Ignores Those Who Need It Most?

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By Pranavi Sethi and Christopher Dee:

Imagine a world where every person has an equal chance at success. Boys and girls of all abilities and attributes are able to go to school. People hold jobs that allow them to earn for themselves and contribute to their family and society. Individuals are able to express themselves and exercise freedom of speech and opinion. A level playing field for everyone.

Sounds good, right? Sadly, today our world is a far cry from this ideal.

Image source: Adam Cohn/Flickr
Image source: Adam Cohn/Flickr

This is especially the case for people with special needs. Even using the very low figures from the Census, more than 21 million people in India, or 2.1% of the population, suffer from one or the other kind of disability. Of these, 1.5 million have an intellectual challenge, including Down’s syndrome, Autism, and Intellectual Disability. For children with such challenges, the playing field is bumpy, making it impossible for them to achieve their full potential.

All children need acceptance and love. Why should a child with special needs have a hard time to achieve happiness? All too often, stigma and discrimination get in the way. Because of the lack of a level playing field, a child with special needs does not have the same access to social interactions as other children: they are excluded from the classroom, they are separated in the playground, and they are often left out of social activities at school, and in the wider community. This creates unfair barriers for children with challenges when it comes to making friends, finding companionship and happiness. This is not a level playing field.

The Right to Education Act enshrines a commitment for inclusive education. However, one in every six out-of-school children in India has an intellectual challenge. Neither the school system nor any institutional mechanism is equipped to address the needs of intellectually challenged children. As a result, 57% of people with intellectual challenges are illiterate, compared to 27% of the abled population. Thus, it seems that children who are most in need of educational care do not receive a proper education. This is not a level playing field.

Early roadblocks to gaining an education bar people with challenges from opportunities later in life. Persons with intellectual challenges are not educated, making meaningful jobs difficult to get. Furthermore, the job market is rarely welcoming for those with various challenges. In total, only 3% of jobs are reserved for those with any kind of “eligible” disability which are limited to locomotor, hearing and visual impairments. This label of “eligible” further limits those who can access these jobs. Over 70% of the intellectually challenged population are not employed, compared to almost 40% of the abled population. This is not a level playing field.

Those born with intellectual disabilities require specialised services to help them maintain their health and overcome multiple challenges. However, in India, only 0.8% of total health expenditure is allocated to persons with intellectual challenges. This is not a level playing field.

So what do we do? Every child, no matter what their challenge, can fulfill his/her potential and make a valuable contribution to society. For children who face challenges, the playing field has to be leveled for them. In practical terms, this means that they must have access to specialised services that help them overcome their challenges, and allocation of health funding must acknowledge this. Furthermore, the commitment for inclusive education enshrined in the Right to Education should be implemented. Most importantly, society needs to learn to look past challenges to see the individual behind the label, and engage with them as equal members of society, as potential employees and as friends. Everyone deserves a level playing field.

About the authors: Pranavi is Executive Director at the Amrit Foundation of India. Having completed her Bachelors of Science in Marketing from IILM Delhi, she heads Amrit with the vision to create a level playing field for children with intellectual and developmental challenges. In her free time, she enjoys art and music.

Chris volunteers at the Amrit Foundation of India and is a recent graduate in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. He is interested in negotiating the junction between medicine and global health as a means of bringing care to those marginalized by society. As a Filipino-Canadian, Chris is interning in India to gain insight into solutions to health problems of the developing world.

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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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