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‘I May Be Female, Asian, Homosexual, But I’m Also Things Stereotypes Can’t Capture’

By Garima Aggarwal:

At the Stanford Graduate School of Education, where I currently study, there was a talk recently by Na’ilah Nasir on Race, Identity, and Learning. If any of the readers reading my article ever have the chance to hear her, I would highly recommend not missing out on the opportunity.

nailah nasir speaking
Na’ilah Nasir. Image source: YouTube

The talk raised very pertinent concerns about race, identity and how such factors impact learning. Stereotypes that have been created around particular ethnicities influence the socialization of both members of that sub-group as well as individuals belonging to other sub-groups. Nasir’s study showed that students react and respond to this stereotype threat in multiple ways – remaining unaware of them, taking them up (i.e. believing them), distancing themselves from it or resisting it. A majority of the kids were in the ‘taking up the stereotypes’ classification, which fosters a ‘resigned to my fate’ outlook that, as we all know, can be severely detrimental.

During the talk, I could not help but wonder how our collective identities (i.e. race, ethnicities, nationalities) can be both empowering, and at the same time critically dis-empowering. The labels associated with our gender, the colour of our skin, the accent of our speech and the tags on our clothes precede us. Even before we speak to a person, we have made several assumptions about them. ‘Assumption’ though, is a relatively mild word, and I believe we, including me, are not so benign. We actually label and pack individuals into neat little boxes, confident in our ability of having figured out where ‘they come from’. Any conversation with the individual after that mostly serves to reinforce our own ‘thesis’ about the individual. If we find an anomaly, instead of digging deeper to understand more, we reject it as aberrant behaviour not worthy of our consideration. I am not saying this scenario is 100% of the times. There are times when we truly let the other person speak, and we truly hear them out. And when we are ready to unpack them out of that little box we had put them in, we realize that no human being can ever be put into any box, no matter how big or small.

It is these instances; it is these conversations that I as a practitioner am interested in. After the talk, I spoke to Nasir about collective narratives and how I believe individual narratives should replace them. I do not suggest we reject our communities, but simply that we expand them. From seeing ourselves and others as male/female, Asian/Caucasian/Hispanic (among others), low income/middle class/privileged class, straight/queer/bisexual or any of the other labels we tend to find comfort in, lets change our lens and see ourselves and others foremost as human beings. That is and will be our primary and fundamental identity. For I can be, and am, female, Asian, homosexual, middle class. But I am also a lot of other things that these labels or stereotypes do not capture and never will. I am a bunch of contradictions. I’m the darkness in the light, I’m the leftness in the right, I’m the rightness in the wrong, I’m the shortness in the long, I’m the undiscovered land, I’m the single grain of sand (source: The Divine Comedy). Try putting me in a box and you would realize there is only one box I can fit into, and that is me.

And it is wonderful to uncover the box that is me or the box that is you. The only way I believe of doing that is when you see me for who I am and I see you for who you are. YOU, not your family, skin or voice. That is why I believe in personal narratives. That is how I think we can go beyond issues that we hold so dearly on to and which lead to alienation and subjugation, to a world where all are equal, all are beautiful. A world where we would like to live and love and support. Where one in two black men is not expected to go to jail, where a Caucasian man is not assumed to have grown up in privilege, where the Asian man is not looked at as a math wiz out to steal someone’s job, where Hispanic men are not presumed to be idle.

Let us build this wonderful world together. I have already begun my journey, care to join me?

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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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