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Guess Who Didn’t Find A Seat At The Big Boys’ Table At The Paris Climate Conference?

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Many today still vehemently deny Climate Change, but it is, to use good old Al Gore’s phrase, “An Inconvenient Truth.” It will impact all life on earth, from the may-fly up to the blue whale. It will impact people of all races. It doesn’t care if you’re one-sixteenth Cherokee, or what language you speak. And it certainly doesn’t care if you can’t afford enough air-conditioning to see you through this impending apocalypse. But if Climate Change is the mother of all issues, then Climate Injustice is the aunt you cant ignore.

Stakeholders In ‘Climate Justice’

Climate Injustice has happened because the developed nations of the world have powered through on the back of fossil fuels (and colonies, but that’s for another time) leaving too many regions in the Global South to deal with carbon emissions not of their own making. But all the finger pointing and diplomatic back-and-forth mean nothing to the world’s most vulnerable communities. Which is exactly what the 21st Conferences of Parties on Climate Change (COP) has tried to address in Paris this year.

For many climate activists, the time to start was yesterday, and the result of COP21 could certainly have come sooner. But at long last, the Paris Agreement is finally here. It appears to take a well-rounded look at “the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.

But even though the words “gender equality,” “gender balance” and “gender-responsive” come up a handful of times in the Agreement, a strong voice from COP21 itself raised some red flags about gender as a concern.

Women Missing From The Table

This voice belongs to Mary Robinson, former Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who said: “If you don’t have women here, how can you say this is about people?” What she was pointing to was the embarrassingly low presence of women at these ‘historic‘ talks: there were only 26%-33% female heads of national delegations!

To echo Robinson, without adequate representation of women’s perspectives at such high level and sensitive talks, the unique problems of women in agriculture in African and Asian countries will just not be factored in. It means that the women in island-nation communities (Tuvalu, Fiji, Marshall Islands and others) must be that much more vigilant in the face of cyclones, protecting their children and getting them to safety.

If you’ve read Audrey Quinn’s comic, ‘Syria’s Climate Conflict,’ you’ll know what the long-term impacts of Climate Change can mean for a people. And for women, it does not bode well; worse in fact. The unequal division of labour means women with little or no resources in their name have it bad on a regular day. What happens to a primary caregiver with limited tools at hand in times of disaster or social unrest? When we talk of the world’s most vulnerable communities, we have to count the vast number of disempowered women among them.

On behalf of the National Organization of Andean and Amazonian Indigenous Women of Peru (ONAMIAP), Gladis Vila Pihue had also written that these talks have the responsibility of reflecting indigenous women’s experiences.

If you undermine poor livelihoods,” said Robinson, “who has to pick up the pieces? Who has to put food on the table? Who has to go further in drought for firewood? The agents of—those who are trying to adapt and be resilient, the vast majority of farmers in the developed world, are women.

So why shouldn’t the most historic climate agreement of our times also be about these women?

Some Of The Best Minds Working On Sustainability Are Women!

It seems ridiculous to exclude women from this most crucial stage for all human societies, when women have brought something amazing to the table. Without essentializing women as ‘nurturing,’ ‘patient,’ ‘labouring’ presences, we should take cognizance of their contributions to sustainable energy. In Thailand, Wandee Khunchornyakong runs the country’s largest solar power generation company. Seven thousand miles away, Ghanian women are meeting daily transport needs with organic, non-polluting construction material in the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. Priscilla Achakpa and her organization Women’s Environmental Program developed solar dryers for women in Nigeria to store their harvest. And there’s also Wanjira Mathai’s AFR100 and Green Belt Movement that seeks to restore forests. And yet, despite planning and executing, these women’s sustainability projects go unnoticed, when ideally they ought to be reproduced and adapted to other regions facing the similar challenges of pollution, congestion, unemployment, poverty, hunger, and poor distribution.

COP21 ended this year with the US demanding a change (a dilution, really) in the language of the document – to have a “shall” replaced with a “should”, and 195 countries had to “bend backwards to accommodate the biggest economy and the biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.” This tiny edit, being passed off as a typo, made headlines, but the fact that the Paris Agreement was not the gender-sensitive document it should have been was conveniently sidelined.

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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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