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In The Fight For Equal Rights For Women, These 8 Things Should Give You Hope

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By Nazeef Mollah:

women_in_indiaThe new year has begun with some positive news about steps taken to empower women at their workplace, as well as within the household. It may not be a bonanza, but it sure is a treat.

1) Defenders Of Our Nation

According to a recent report, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police is to introduce 500 new women constables to its force. The duties of the over one thousand women constables in the ITBP, first inducted in 2008, had previously included only maintenance of law and order, and frisking women at border posts. This batch of women, however, having undergone 44 weeks of arduous training, are to be deployed along the border. In October last year, the Ministry of Defence had promised the first woman fighter pilot in the IAF by July 2017. It seems our armed and para-military forces are finally shedding the outmoded conception of women as the ‘weaker’ sex.

2) A Proper Shot At The Workplace

Meanwhile in Bihar, the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance government has delivered on one its poll promises. 35% reservation has been given to women in all categories of government jobs, whereas earlier it was only there in the police. It is yet another addition to Nitish Kumar’s discernible popularity with women, what with the 50% reservation for them in the Bihar Panchayati Raj Act, 2006, distribution of bicycles, awarding of scholarships to encourage education among girls and other welfare measures.

And these have clearly paid off as the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) data for literacy has shown, with literacy among women (age 15-49) jumping from 37 to 49.6%. Female voter turnout, which has seen an upturn in both absolute and relative terms in the past decade, was noticeably higher in the first four phases of the 2015 Bihar elections. The Chief Minister clearly knows what his primary constituency is!

3) Moms Having Kids Via Surrogates Get Maternity Leave Too

Maharashtra is now the first state to allow female employees in government jobs having a child through surrogacy 180 days of maternity leave. A similar rule was already in place for pregnant women and mothers who have adopted children. Although commercial surrogacy in India had legally been an option since 2002, this new rule shows a sensitivity towards mothers who take the surrogate route, something that was lacking earlier. However, they would be granted only one such leave in their lifetime.

4) More Women To Be Visible Out On The Roads

The state government of Maharashtra had expressed a desire, late last year, for a 5% quota for women in the lottery for granting auto-rickshaw licences. The reason was that few women selected in 2014 had taken up their jobs by then. The official announcement was made recently by the State Transport Minister. It is hoped that this would ensure that a stipulated number of licences go to women, thus increasing their participation in a predominantly male preserve. Several applications had been received by the government, the last date for which was January 12. While criteria for applying have been eased, knowing the local language would be a pre-requisite.

A similar initiative had been launched in February last year in Mumbai to encourage more female taxi drivers. More women in public transportation is likely to induce a sense of security in those working late hours. No offence to the hard-working men in the profession! Some stereotypes are going to be maintained, though, as the rickshaws would possibly have a pink or orange based colour scheme.

5)The Work-Life Balance To Be Made Possible

It has been decided by the Ministry of Women and Child Development that all establishments with 30 female workers or a total of 50 workers are to have crèche facilities. It will be included in the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. These crèches are to be located not more than 500 metres from the place of work. This measure would ease the burden on women balancing child rearing and employment.

Apart from the above, the findings of the first phase of the NFHS-4 report, released on the 19th of January by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has given the ministry a chance to pat itself on the back. It covers 13 states and two Union territories. In it, there are some alarming figures, such as a rise in the number of anaemic women, especially in states like Meghalaya and Haryana which show the steepest rise. But the trends for most social indicators are positive.

6) Money-wise Women Get Wiser

There was a marked increase in the number of women, between the age group of 15-49, who manage their own finances. The biggest surprise was Tamil Nadu which saw the percentage of such women rise from 15.9% in 2005-6, when the NFHS-3 was conducted, to a delightfully high 77%. Bihar and Tripura led the list with the highest percentage of women who own property.

7) Having A Say, And Saying ‘No’

Another important category has also shown signs of improvement. That of the percentage of women who have a say in household decisions, which looks reassuring across the country. This, coupled with a decrease in the number of ‘ever-married’ women who have been subjected to spousal abuse, significantly in Madhya Pradesh for example, presents an encouraging picture of their empowerment.

8) Finally, Menstrual Health Is A Measure

A new category added in the survey was that of women (age 15-24 years) who use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period. Tamil Nadu had the highest percentage of 91.4 while Bihar and Madhya Pradesh recorded the lowest percentage. It may be hard to recognise any trends here, but the use of such new measures for gauging women’s well-being may represent a broader normative change in our country.

An interesting observation has been the increase in the proportion of mobile phones used only by women. Now, that could be a consequence of their increased level of literacy or the mobile boom reaching the corners it has always wanted to. But what’s not so great is the marginal fall in total women in these states with comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Education needs to be incentivized further for women if we agree that they hold up half the sky.” And in the fight for gender equality, men need to be sensitised even more on issues that create an imbalance in our world.

Clearly, many issues still exist but what matters is the right step forward and in that spirit, 2016 is already on the right track!

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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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