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What These 5 Had To Say About Being Agents Of Change Is Truly Powerful And Inspiring

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By Lipi Mehta:

This Women’s Day, Youth Ki Awaaz, in association with Havells India, hosted a very special Twitter chat. We reached out to five inspiring changemakers whose work has helped create a more gender-equal and inclusive world. They are the #WindsOfChange in society and it was a pleasure to chat with them about their work, memorable moments from their lives, and things and people that inspire them. More than anything, the chat proved that it’s high time to #RespectWomen as equal stakeholders in society, whether its Women’s Day or not. You can read the complete chat, below. You could also view this conversation on Twitter and share your inputs, here.

Karuna Nundy, Supreme Court Advocate

1. What has been the most defining moment of your career so far, and why?

I argued and won a big commercial case a few years ago. While celebrating, a male colleague made a sexual comment. The harassing comment – considered every day, ‘normal’ – is something I shamed and shut down immediately. But I realised anew, that the extra work we get for being women is everybody’s work, not just for individual professionals. Also, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Truly successful women change the game for themselves and others.
2. What was it about the legal profession that made you want to become a lawyer?

This is simple – power and impact! I looked long and hard for a vocation, and the law is an important tool, plus real change.
3. Do you believe that well-behaved women seldom make history? Yes or no, and why? (Question asked by @tina_acharya)

‘Good behaviour’ is going by someone else’s rules. For women that usually means staying in a stultifying gender box.

4. What is that one stereotype or myth you’d want to bust about women working in law?

That there are brilliant women lawyers in every area of law, not just family law or women’s rights. Justice Ruma Pal, Meenakshi Arora, Zia Mody, Kamini Jaiswal, Indu Malhotra and many others do fantastic work in diff areas.

_U1p0T2fThe Ladies Finger, Women’s e-zine

1. What made you start a women’s e-zine and cover sexual health, violence, politics and related topics?

We wanted to read a greater range of writing about women’s experiences. Everything from health to clothes to sports and work. Post December 16, 2012, there was the illusion of more gender reporting. But it was more news about sexual violence written by men. And even the reporting about sexual violence was all frightening stock pictures and frightening patriarchy with headlines.

2. Of the countless stories you’ve reported, can you share some that brought you immense joy?

In December 2015, we worked with our friends @KhabarLahariya to report on Haryana’s new electoral restrictions. Last year, we ran a series of pieces on the Women’s FIFA. We kind of love our sports pieces. In recent times, maximum giggling happened when we put together a playlist for the air quality crisis. That much giggling is usually reserved for politicians statements on gender!

3. In your experience, how has more women speaking up online led to change on the ground?

Online spaces have definitely given one class of Indian women a chance to make the thinking on gender more diverse. Online spaces give us a chance to crowd-source resources, fact-check, campaign – all kinds of things. Last year we ran a series of pieces inspired by @AIIndia‘s ‘Ready to Report’ campaign. The series had a range of women talking about what happened when they went to the police station to report violence. One of the astonishing things that happened was when we ran a piece by our friends at @KhabarLahariya (KL). The story galvanised the UP Government to take action against a man who was stalking the KL reporters for months! And really, only because folks on Twitter were enraged and banged at the doors of the UP Chief Minister’s online presence. Months and months of reporting to the cops and nothing had happened. But the KL reporters wrote this piece. And within hours, the stalker was arrested.

4. We would love to know of any comments or feedback you remember on how your work has inspired your readers.

Our readers send us great tips, keep us on the straight and narrow, politically. They push us all the time and laugh a lot. We feel very lucky to have our community online.

Sairee Chahal SHEROESSairee Chahal, Founder – SHEROES India

1. In your experience with @SHEROESIndia, how can empowering more women with technology bring change on the ground?

Technology allows for scale and pace, and cost decreases with adoption. It can help leapfrog large economic and social gaps faster.

2. According to you, what’s the best part about being an entrepreneur, today?

Massive opportunity, openness and the ability to impact.

3. Have women whom @SHEROESIndia has helped become #WindsOfChange in their own lives? And how?

So many of them. For example, @archana_arora1 – from a digital immigrant to powering digital careers.

4. And finally, as an entrepreneur what was your biggest obstacle to overcome?

Creating a valid space for women’s careers.

nadika nadjaNadika Nadja, Transwoman And Writer

1. What has been your biggest learning so far in the journey of discovering your gender identity?

Hmm. That transitioning doesn’t cure me of my anxieties and insecurities, that it doesn’t excuse my past shitty behaviour and that I have internalised transphobia which kind of makes me a shitty friend to other trans people at times. Also, clothes and presentation are extremely gendered in people’s perception of you. Another thing I learnt after coming out as trans is, I tend to be quieter, and some people read my silence in various ways.

2. With the Trans Rights Bill in discussion, do you notice any positive changes for the trans community in society?

If we are talking of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment bill, there were some issues a bunch of people pointed out, the trans community and others, including disability rights groups. The whole bill seemed to be slightly out of date, in that it talked of rehabilitation and not rights. Trans people need rights. We’ll each work on our own rehabilitation.

A big part of the discourse around trans people seems to be made by cisgender people who look at us as poor people needing saving. One positive change is how, many more groups – LGBTQI and allies – have realised the fight needs to be in different fronts, and that intersectionality is the only way to fix some of these deep societal barriers. More people are now aware of trans issues and talk of trans rights, which is cool. But it won’t matter till we are represented by trans people at any forum making decisions about trans and intersex people. Nothing about us without us.

3. What according to you is the best way to create awareness about gender and sexuality?

Depends on who the audience is. Kinda’ difficult to say really. People have various internal conceptions and prejudices to overcome. But on-the-ground activities involving the community, sex education with sexuality will help. Also seeing more LGBTQI events like pride, the @ciqff @bqff etc. will help. Media presence – mainstream media, vernacular media, written for, by LGBT persons.

Out and public LGBTQI folks can change perceptions. Depends, again, on one’s own prejudices. Twitter and Facebook work for a bit but the larger part of the population is outside these silos. So talking to them where they are, with their life experiences and their own parameters – that is essential

4. What motivates you to continue your work in a society that can be very prejudiced?

Oh. I’m doing very, very, very little. I have a fair amount of privilege and support. So, I don’t have to starve, or be homeless. I do what I know to do best. Write. It asks for very little effort compared to the actual work people put in.

Dia Mirza, Actor And Producer

1. As a film producer in an industry dominated by men, what is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?

Believing first that I was just as capable of doing the job, man’s world or not.

2. A message you would like to give to the girls who face discrimination in our society? (Question from @little9496)

Only YOU can define your path. Choose to educate, work and empower yourself.

3. What do you think is the greatest challenge faced by Indian women? (Question from @Pratheek_NM)

Access to health, education, employment and gender discrimination.

4. As a producer, what sort of films and stories are you looking to encourage?

Films that are socially relevant and stories that engage and stir the conscience towards better choices and actions.

5. If you could think of one new law, which one would you choose? (Question from @danabolly)

Maternity leave for fathers.

6. What’s the one change you’d like to personally work towards bringing in the world?

To spread the understanding that we will ALL stand the same fate as the nature we displace.

7. Girls are told to be shy, simple and be more respectful to others than boys. How to change this mentality? (Question from @PurnimaHK_SG)

Find your own individuality, your voice, your reason. Don’t be confined by stereotypes, boy or girl.

8. As an actor, what’s one aspect of being part of the film industry that you find empowering?

The ability to connect with so many people.To have their love. To able to engage with them.

9. What according to you is the biggest obstacle to women empowerment in India? (Question from @ChhajerVineet)

The fact that many sections of society treat women as a commodity or a liability.

10. Are things equal for actors & actresses in Bollywood? (Question from @TweetsByPrateek)

Not equal. But with more women becoming active participants in film-making, this will change.

It’s quite evident that it’s not just these five changemakers but any of us can create real impact in the world – if we take action when we witness injustice, if we refuse to not let silence be our only option in a society that more often than not, discriminates against its own. Well, we sure hope you enjoyed reading this chat as much as we enjoyed hosting it. Share it ahead and spread the #WindsOfChange!

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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 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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