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Last Century’s Devastating Wars Have Had This Important and Positive Result

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By Shivani Chimnani:

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World history is marked by a colossal number of wars, battles, international conflicts, crises and feuds between countries. In the ancient times, two acrimonious countries invariably resorted to war, killings, and mass destruction as a means for resolving conflict; a time when the practice of slavery, torturous campaigns of genocide, predominance of autocratic regimes, ruthless invasions of each other’s territory, imperial colonisation, the race for arms and attainment of ultimate political power were considered habitual acts of the apparent ‘super powers’. The Balkan wars, the Great War, the Second World War were all outcomes of mere political disputes between egoistic nations which led to the unfortunate loss of millions of lives. The abysmal ‘animal instinct’ of man, the generality of cruel despotic regimes and the utter disregard for innocent human lives were flagrant in this era.

However, the result of these devastating wars and casualties was the dawn of a new civilisation, a sense of empathy for the massive losses on all sides. There was a paradigm shift in thinking amongst the world powers marking the inception of public international law. Nations came to realise the importance of regulating and preventing such atrocities and living in peace and the virtue of cooperation. The concept of sovereignty gained paramount importance giving birth to international organisations, transnational courts, and tribunals to ensure sovereignty and bring perpetrators of international war crimes to justice. The notion of human rights, which ensured each individual a basic right to live with dignity, came into light and was promoted extensively. The seeds of International Law, i.e., the law of nations governing the conduct and structure of sovereign states towards each other were thereby sown.

International Law, in its formalistic model, has primarily evolved over the 20th century owing to the aftermath of the two wars which gravely shocked the global conscience. The Great War led to the inauguration of an intergovernmental peace organisation, the League of Nations, the first of its kind, established in Geneva in 1920 to guarantee political independence and territorial integrity to small nations. However, the League failed miserably in achieving its objectives and preventing the rise of tyranny in Germany and Italy and was further unable to cease the advent of a ‘Second’ World War and, therefore, gradually perished.

After the trauma of the Second World War, which bruised the entirety of mankind, the dire need for peace was realised. It had to be achieved instantaneously. In 1945, marking the beginning of a new era, the League was succeeded by the United Nations Organisation determined to uphold democratic sovereignty and ensure international peace and security. The UN supported the formation of the International Court of Justice to adjudicate on all international crimes which supplemented massive developments in the field of Public International Law. Heinous crimes such as genocide, slavery, torture were declared to be peremptory norms from violation of which no state could derogate from.

In the subsequent years, after the establishment of the International Court of Justice, many international institutions and tribunals such as the World Trade Organization, the International Criminal Court, etc. were founded to ensure international social, economic, criminal and political justice. Civilisation had begun to evolve. There was absolute consensus among the international community with regard to the safeguarding human rights and promoting international cooperation at large.

The subject matter of Public International Law entails the framework of rules relating to the conduct of sovereign states. According to international law scholar, Professor F.I. Kozhevnikov, “international law can be defined as the aggregate of rules governing relations between states.” The international system is horizontal, having no hierarchical structure, where 193 states are all equal in legal theory. The field of International law is constantly developing. There is no rigid set of rules and regulations binding nation states. It’s a byproduct of its environment. It has developed with the prevailing notions of international relations. Consensus and acceptance of rules and norms by sovereign states are the key elements of this law. When countries are in discord, it is practical to have recourse to the rules of international law even though it may have conflicting interpretations.

The scope of International Law is wide ranging from regulation of outer space expeditions to governing undersea waterbeds, involving individual actors of States to international organisations, companies and nation states, covering the conduct of eloquent consuls to savage terrorists, entailing procedures of modern day diplomacy to defining rules of present day warfare, from determining immunities of heads of state to liabilities of aliens, from ascertaining the threshold of the use of force to validating the text of a peace treaty and so much more. The monumental increase in the number of international agreements, conventions and customs, the development of multitudes of international tribunals and organisations, state practice in upholding and defending human rights have established the essence of International Law as it is today.

Despite the fact that 21st century has been considerably peaceful and non-destructive in comparison to its predecessors, International Law remains to be of equal or rather higher significance today. The international community has encountered grave and imminent perils such as jingoistic terrorist organisations tormenting citizens, governmental mass surveillance programs contravening individual privacy, drone attacks killing innocents, cyber sabotage on countries’ vital infrastructure breaching its sovereignty, data security breaches undertaken by governments all accompanied by an endless list of basic rights’ violation. Revelations of Assange, Snowden and other prominent whistleblowers have brought to light large scale rights infringements by governments themselves. The perils have taken novel forms but they can be curtailed by this law itself.

Even today, after every revelation, attack, feud, battle, conflict and crisis, there ensues a parallel battle, a legal one. International Law continues to develop constantly to meet any new needs of the world. It evolves as we evolve. The importance of international law can never be undermined because of the immense impact it has on the world at large. Even today, given the critical issues faced by the global community, there exists a need to have such a law to draw the line between what is permitted and what is not. International law is indeed the result every war, revolution, mutiny, uprising, rebellion intended to bring about a change in the ways of the world hoped for. International law is the change.

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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.

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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.

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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 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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