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My Letter On Youth Ki Awaaz Started The National Campaign #HappyToBleed

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By Nikita Azad and Subhashini Shriya:

menstrupedia happy to bleed
Image source: Twitter

On November 20, I (Nikita Azad) wrote an open letter addressed to Sabrimala temple chief Prayar Gopalakrishnan as a response to this sexist statement that once ‘purity’ checking machines (that check whether women are menstruating or not) are invented, he will think about letting women enter the temple. The letter was first published on Youth Ki Awaaz from where it went viral on social media. After the letter was appreciated by a large number of people, we created a week-long event, ‘Happy To Bleed’ on 21st November as a social media campaign. Happily, this campaign, which began from one Facebook account, has become a national campaign, with hundreds of people participating and applauding the initiative. Also, I have been tagged as ‘anti-Hindu’, ‘anti-national’, ‘anti-Indian’, ‘prostitute’, ‘over-educated’ and have received threatening comments that the campaign should be stopped, that I should be killed. But till date these have come only in the form of comments on news surrounding my letter and the campaign.

I heartily thank everybody who has supported the campaign and stood against patriarchal practices of our society. The campaign has actually become a voice of progressive, democratic people.

Image source: Nikita Azad/Facebook
Image source: Nikita Azad/Facebook

Shaming menstruation is only one form of patriarchy which women are subject to, but in reality, patriarchy has comparatively more acute, concrete manifestations. Women have been considered a secondary sex all over the world, and have been secluded from production processes that form the lifeline of society. In the peculiar context of India, cultural taboos of purity-impurity have been imposed on Dalits, and women in order to legitimise the then existing ownership patterns of resources/means of production. Within this context, we see shaming menstruation as a practice, a cultural taboo that strengthens caste and class hierarchies.

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Image source: Happy To Bleed/Facebook

In the present day world, the taboo is intertwined with women’s mobility, her right to take her own decisions, her control over her body, etc. As soon as a girl starts menstruating, a lot of insecurities around her sexual nature are built, and society starts strenuously guarding her sexual behaviour as well as other routine activities. Data reveals that 23% girls drop out of school once they start menstruating. The spaces of society shrink rapidly for women after this juncture of their lives. This leads to the denial of a lot of basic services like sanitation, healthcare, menstrual care, reproductive health etc. Particularly, because menstruation is perceived as an area of sexual health than reproductive health, there is no space for women to state their medical problems. Although there are some organizations which are vocal about reproductive health of women, their actual objective is not providing health care facilities to ‘women’, but to ‘reproductive machines’, so as to extract maximum profits.

UK happy to bleed
Image source: Meena Kandaswamy/Twitter

According to a report, 88% women do not have access to sanitary napkins, and are forced to use cloth, ash, bag full of sand, or straw etc. during menstruation. This horrible situation exists because of the silence that is maintained on menstruation, and commodisation of health. What should have been the responsibility of governments, has inherently been marketed by greedy corporates for their profit making ventures. Whisper, Stayfree, sanitary cups etc. have made menstrual care for Dalit women and working class women a distant dream since they have absolutely no resources to purchase these, and have exonerated the state of its duty to provide proper menstrual care. Hereby, we strongly oppose commodisation of women’s health services, and apprehend that it is Indian state’s responsibility to ensure free menstrual care services for all sections of women. We oppose sly attempts of corporate-funded NGOs, capitalist enterprises to use patriarchy for their profit making ventures, and hereby expose the limitations and utopia of the empowerment of women as promised by the corporates and state.

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Image source: Countercurrents.org/Facebook

With the increasing spirit of the campaign, we have decided to take it further. The campaign ends on November 27, and we hope to connect to maximum people by then. After the campaign is over, we will be publishing a report about the campaign to state our larger goals and objectives. The campaign is not against any particular religion or religious practice, but against all the menstrual taboos that exist in our society. We urge the National Commission for Women to take a stand against such discrimination, whether it is practised in some religion, or society at large. Secondly, the provision of healthy, and sustainable menstrual care to women of all sections of society is the basis to fight against mythical taboos. Therefore, the state should take the responsibility of providing free menstrual care, invest in technology and infrastructure to cater to women’s particular health concerns, instead of leaving this space to the profit mongering of market.

In the end, we extend our token of thanks to everyone who has supported the campaign. We appeal to people to look at gender oppression, of which menstrual myths are a part, historically and scientifically, instead of translating women’s health issues to capitalist appropriation.

#HappyToBleed

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  1. Sandy Dhamija

    बस अब बदलना है मुझे.. मुझे नहीं पता पवित्र अपवित्र क्या होता है पर कुछ बातें हैं जो मुझे कचोटती हैं धर्म के नाम पर पितृसत्ता के नाम पर तकियानूसी रीति-रिवाजों के नाम पर हम आज भी कैसी सोच को अपनाये बैठे हैं। और कितना वक़्त चाहिए हमें बदलने में? जो हम सबकी जननी है उसे ही मंदिर में प्रवेश नहीं पूजा का अधिकार नहीं सिर्फ इसलिए की वो अपवित्र है। अगर ऐसा है तो कोई और रास्ता सुझाओ तुम जन्म का आखिर तुम भी तो 9 महीने उसी के पेट में थे जिसे तुम अपवित्र कह रहे हो। तो सही है न फिर नहीं चाहिए ऐसे मंदिर मस्जिद क्या करना है। नास्तिक ही अच्छे हैं हम। भगवान तो हम सबके अंदर ही है। भला वहां कैसे रोक पाओगे तुम उसे मिलने से । निकिता आज़ाद को तो मेरा इतना ही कहना है कि एक मंदिर बनाओ जिसमे पुरुषों का प्रवेश वर्जित हो और जब पुरुष पूछे की क्यों मैं यहां प्रवेश नहीं कर सकता तो उसे बताओ की तुम बलात्कार करते हो…दहेज लेते हो…औरतों पर ज़ुल्म करते हो इसलिए तुम यहां नहीं आ सकते। आखिर तुम भी तो अपवित्र हो शायद एक औरत से ज़्यादा….

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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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