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‘My God Does Not Treat Me Any Less Because I’m A Woman, So Why Should You?’

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By Rangashree Thirumalai and Devanshi Saxena:

women_temple_prayingThe recent debate on the entry of women (especially of menstruating age) into temples, holy shrines, churches and durgahs has revived a long-standing debate about the ‘purity’ and ‘impurity’ of women. As women and as students of law, it pains us to see the discriminatory practices hailed as ‘integral’ to faith.

We are afraid this is utterly flawed and unacceptable at many levels. At the outset, we would like to clarify that we have been raised in the Hindu faith and continue to follow the same.

Firstly, at a time when we have begun celebrating a ‘Constitution Day’, it is unbecoming of us to say that gendered rituals supersede the fundamental tenets of equality, civil liberties such as freedom of speech and expression and the right to religion. It’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would uphold unjust and discriminatory practices in a country governed by the Rule of Law.

Secondly, regarding faith and gender at the micro-level, one’s relationship with the Lord is simply one’s own. No amount of social boycott and ostracisation will let her down. In fact, we have met many men in our circles who have been exceptionally open about menstruating women, whether it is entering temples, celebrating religious functions at home or simply lighting the lamp daily. Not all households impose such harsh preconditions on women.

Women are biologically different from men, and that does not make them inferior. God did not make only one gender, and there’s no record of the superiority of the male gender in religion, especially not in Hinduism, which is replete with stories of powerful goddesses. Those who believe that women are somehow inferior, and those prohibit them from public places of worship, try to illustrate that women enjoy a lesser right to God. They are mistaken. My God does not treat me any less because I’m a woman. My faith is as valuable and as important as yours. Nobody can take that away. Centuries of subjugation and ill-treatment towards a menstruating woman need to be overturned and must pave the way for a more inclusive and equitable society.

Moving beyond the legal arguments, what enrages us are the arguments against letting women enter temples. A survey of popular posts on the issue and the comments on them brought cases to light which reconfirm that this is nothing but a misunderstanding of menstruation and vaginal health. Well, you can call it pure sexism. Had the people making these arguments checked their facts, they would have known how ridiculous they sound. Some of the arguments stated are as follows:

1. Temples, Shani Shingnapur in particular, require devotees to be dripping with water before they touch the stone. Menstruating women and women suffering from candidiasis (a yeast infection in the vagina) would create hygiene issues while performing such practices.
2. A woman is dirty when she’s menstruating. (Let me point out that there isn’t a way to determine how many times a man has bathed before entering a temple. Those who say this are apparently referring to women being inherently dirty or “doshi.”)
3. That certain Gods are celibate and women should not be touching them. (Then why do male priests tend to idols of goddesses, if I may ask.)
4. Tradition. (Traditions have been questioned and updated time and again. Some examples are abolition of sati and widow remarriage.)
5. That the menstrual cycle of a woman signifies a sin and her bleeding is repentance for it.
6. That these bans are restricted to certain temples and certain Gods. They advise women to have their own temples and pray in them all day.
7. That sexism and gender-specific ritual practices should not be confused.

There are articles and comments, talking against denial of equal treatment. Women raising their voice against discriminatory practices are termed as “cultural terrorists” and “faux feminists.” This is an appeal to pause and understand that demand for equal rights is not an assault on Hinduism or any other religion for that matter. It is the reverse. Gone are the days when men had dominion over the definitions of religion. To anyone who is used to a position of privilege, a demand for equality will look unwanted. In our view, none of the objections to the entry of any gender in places of worship hold water. It is the lack of awareness and apathy about ‘women’s issues’ which has made people treat a sanitary napkin as a forbidden object and has forced women to wrap it in black plastic while returning from the store.

The ones who go far to respect their deity should first recognise that the deity’s creations are equal. Everybody is born equal and deserves to be treated that way. Much like how we do not need religion-inspired stories about the holiness of hijras to respect transgenders!

We are all equal. Period.

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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.

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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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