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“Sexism Has Followed Me From Childhood”: All That We Must NOT Forget This Women’s Day

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I don’t remember how old I was when I realised it sucked to be a girl.

The barrage of stressful gendered situations that crashed into me as I hit puberty were pretty major; being warned not to “lead boys on” by daring to wear tops that revealed the fact that – gasp! – I had BOOBS in PUBLIC, that I ought to shave my legs because “girls don’t have body hair” (despite that fact that, y’know, girls DO have body hair), to not mention the fact I was bent double in pain because my uterus was ejecting itself through my vagina (the word “vagina” itself was like a swearword where as “penis” was just giggle-worthy) and the fact that “bitch” was suddenly an appropriate term for any girl who wasn’t liked.

But I also had to remember that sexism has followed me from childhood – from the small irritations of being told to sit a certain way appropriate for “a lady”, to being told that the boys who were bullying me through a combination of name-calling, inappropriate touching and in one case, throwing rubbish at me, were doing it because they “liked” me and that I had to put up or shut up.

Despite this, I never really thought about “feminism” as a way to tackle this relentless unfairness until I was about eighteen. I just assumed that the world was slanted a certain way in favour of boys and men and that this was as natural as the sun rising. Unfair, of course, but an unavoidable and inflexible fact of life in the same way gravity is. It was only when I made friends with a girl who talked about feminism and the fact that all of this could be changed that the world suddenly came into lurid, shocking focus. And I’ve never looked back.

Feminism is fundamentally, about giving women the respect and opportunities they deserve and are lacking on the basis of their gender. But the fact of the matter is that there is a LOT to look at.

Problems tackled in the name of feminism range from whether Barbie should have a more “realistic” body type to ending Female Genital Mutilation to body hair acceptance to ending the pay gap, so how on earth do we begin to approach a full understanding of what feminism “should” be focusing on?

It is vital that we realise that feminist efforts are themselves situated within contexts that are economic, racial, and geographic. What feminist hasn’t been rattled by those who demand to know why you’re angry about being judged for body hair when in some countries, women can’t even drive? Or why you’re so keen to end period stigma, when surely the main problem is the pay gap? Stop complaining about male students talking over you in lessons, at least you’re getting an education!

Sometimes, it’s difficult to feel justified in being angry at the comparatively mild irritations of men harassing me with sexual comments on the street and talking over me in class when I consider that this is small fry in comparison to what other women go through on a daily basis. But one has to remember that the disrespect of women on the basis of them being women is the basis of patriarchy, whether that be mildly annoying misogyny or violent and terrifying misogyny, and patriarchy is pretty universal.

But whilst patriarchy may be widespread, we must remember that identical female experiences of it are not. I may be a woman of colour, but I am also cisgender and able-bodied and have been born and educated in a Western country. This context affects the way I apply my feminism, the particular feminist lens through which I view social reality. I still have much to learn from listening to the lived experiences of other women from all walks of life.

Trans women and especially trans women of colour face an epidemic of violence, and the danger to trans women goes up exponentially if they are engaged in sex work, which many of them are [reference]. The danger of violence, abuse and general disrespect to sex workers is an issue the feminist community cannot ignore.

Domestic violence is consistently a topic under feminist attention, but rarely is it discussed that disabled women are twice as likely to experience it.

On International Women’s Day, when we raise our sleeves à laRosie the Riveter and sing about girl power, let us also remember those whom mainstream feminism too-oft forgets about or misunderstands. Women of colour, trans women, sex workers, disabled women. Let us fight for a world where all women are respected, educated, and supported by their communities; where all women have control over their own bodies, whether the body in question be fat, disabled, of colour, or trans, covered or showing skin.

And crucially, we must make sure that we do not use other women, especially non-Western women as examples purely to derail a conversation about another gender-based issue. Non-Western women who still suffer under the effects of the Western colonial legacy and the oft-misguided attempts at Western “liberation” are not there to be used as “gotcha!” cards in conversations about comparing female oppression worldwide, nor should they be infantilised as helpless against the misogyny they may be experiencing in their own communities.

On Women’s Day, we focus on sexism, but as Audre Lorde said “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Gender intersects with so many other elements of reality and this must always, always be taken into account when we think of how best we can support ourselves and all the women in our lives.


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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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