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After Being Tagged As ‘Not Feminine Enough’ For Years, This Is What I’ve Finally Realised

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By Shalini Ghosh:

Tomboy Gender Divide - Gender Stereotypes20 years ago while handing me over to my mom for the first time, the doctors confirmed I was a girl. I totally believed in my birth certificate when I read it.

But gradually as I grew up, I realized that there are different categories here as well – the girly one, the tomboyish one and then, of course, there’s the “badchalan” types. First, it was the race between over a million sperms that I had to win, then abide by the decision of those random sets of chromosomes picked under god-knows-what Darwinian calculations, and now you tell me that the whole grind isn’t over yet?

To make it worse, this time, there were no defined rules for the categories. Probably it was because of the cropped hairstyle I had, or the instinct to fight, I don’t know, but I was gradually tagged as boyish. All this while, they said I was a girl, and I thought nothing could change my femininity. And, now I wasn’t feminine enough?

Without much of a fuss, I wore the tag pretty well and, lived up to its many glories. Sweatshirts and tracks were my favourites, bunking school and playing cricket all day long was bliss. Being surrounded by only guys I grew up to talk, walk and think like them.

They say time and age solve everything and life becomes clearer.

And puberty is the first step of growing up.

In my case though, growing up did not quite have the benefits I had anticipated. Instead, it created an ever-widening rift between my friends and me. And all I could do was feel more and more like an outsider. I couldn’t relate myself to any of them anymore. The hormones, the emotions – nothing was similar.

So now suddenly, I was brought back to where I had started – being a girl. My friends remained the same, the way I spoke to them was the same, but our bodies were visibly different, and the way we were treated was vastly different. We did not fight anymore because apparently boys are prohibited to hit girls. This made things easier for me, but at the same time, other things became so much more complex. As though the boys could go on living as they had while I was shackled into playing a role befitting a girl. Fighting so many changes and coping with the ones I had no control over, I was soon tagged to be a “girl who only hangs out with the guys”. And that was bad news.

Somehow, everyone expects the two sexes to exist as absolutes; without interfering with the other. It’s like some treasure that must be guarded carefully.

I just became a misfit among the people I had grown up with. After all those years of friendship, it was like starting all over again. This time though, I did not have to be like them, but be what they like!

It’s like a tournament. Each and every moment you would be judged by how good you look, which guy you like and most importantly which one of them likes you.

After all these years of playing with them, now all of a sudden you had to play for them. It used to be a competition for who could get away from mom without taking showers for days, and now suddenly you judge me by how well I dress up to be likeable enough?

Hell, you would never like someone after you knew they don’t shower for weeks! You would not even want to sit beside them the next day!

What now? You want me to have girlfriends? Mingle with the ones whom, years earlier you said weren’t my type? What do you want next? Graduate from school, and be married off?

Well no matter what puberty did, my age and maturity gave me the ability to think by myself – a luxury that some people missed.

The concepts were very clear now. To survive, I needed food, water, clothes and shelter. The type of food I eat or the clothes I wear are completely my choices. I have enough faith in me that I am not going to let myself starve to death, neither will I marry to feed myself. Yes, I need people around me to survive but, then again that is something I decide. I was a girl 20 years ago, and I will be one forever. No matter what happens, nothing can change that. I can do whatever any other person can. It’s only a matter of individual choice.

A simple rule of physics states that substance should have matter to make an impact, and what people think doesn’t fall into that category.

One of my simple rules says: “Things become only as complicated as we want them to be.”

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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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