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For The Love Of Gamora, Where Are The Female Superheroes That Are Not White?

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You’d be forgiven for thinking we’re back in the golden age of superheroes, at least where films are concerned. ‘Captain America: Civil War’ released this week to rave reviews and it was preceded by the not-that-well received ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ Before that there was the Christopher Nolan ‘Batman’ trilogy, and pretty much the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (the various ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Thor,’ ‘Captain America’ movies with the occasional ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ thrown in). Conclusion? There are a lot of superhero movies. So maybe it’s time to start asking the question: Why are so many superheroes men and uh, white?

Yes, yes let’s get the obvious over with. It’s not like there haven’t been female superheroes. We’ve had Black Widow, the various X-Men (Rogue, Storm, Shadowcat, Jean Grey), Wonder Woman, and Supergirl. So it’s not like the big screen hasn’t been graced with female superheroes. It’s just that, apart from Jessica Jones, the focus has never been on them. Why is Black Widow, while a kickass character in her own right, pretty much the only other major member of the Avengers to not get her own movie, despite calls for the same? Wonder Woman shows up as a major member of the Justice League in a movie which doesn’t even have her name in the title: ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.’ With the exception of Jean Grey and Rogue, no other female X-Men has had the focus of any movie like the male X-Men have had (Wolverine, Professor X, Cyclops, or Iceman) and even they pretty much exist to be rescued by Wolverine in both cases.

The comics’ world has fared a little better, surprisingly enough. We’ve had the new female Thor, Batgirl and Captain Marvel, as well as Ms. Marvel (who is, awesomely enough, an American Muslim.) Jessica Jones herself had an excellent run in the comic series called ‘Alias,’ and there has been the amazing ‘Spider-Gwen‘ (a universe where it’s Peter Parker who dies and Gwen Stacy who gets bitten by a radioactive spider). But even with these awesome women, the problem doesn’t go away, because their numbers just don’t compare with the number of male superheroes.

The problem appears to be that a lot of the times women exist in these movies to be the New Age damsel in distress. So we have Lois Lane in ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ who, while a tough reporter, still needs to be rescued and doesn’t really contribute much beyond that.

The influx of great female superheroes is showing that the world wants more of them and that they do, in fact, sell no matter what anyone thinks. In fact, we’ve had female superheroes explore ideas like rape and the importance of consent, as in Jessica Jones. Or Agent Carter, who shows you can be badass while wearing a nice dress. But we still need change and in a big way.

Female superheroes often get sidelined, and often in weird ways. Rey from ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is an interesting example because despite being the star of her franchise, guess who barely shows up in the Star Wars’ merchandise? And it’s not just her. Other female characters (often non-white female characters) from other superhero films barely show up, such as Gamora from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and Storm from ‘X Men.’ Like seriously, when was the last time you saw a Black Widow toy?

And it’s not just women’s representation that is lacking. Count how many non white superheroes we’ve had. I’m guessing you’ve come up with a lot of men (Falcon, Black Panther, Luke Cage). This begs the question: Where are all the non white female superheroes? On screen we’ve had just Storm from ‘X Men‘ and Gamora from ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ That’s … pretty sad actually. On the comic-book side of things, apart from the two mentioned we have Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, as well as more low profile heroes like Jubilee (Wolverine’s former sidekick) and Nubia, Wonder Woman’s black twin sister. Nubia is a pretty interesting character, being created from black clay (as Diana aka Wonder Woman was created from white clay). It would be seriously amazing to see her take the stage along with her sister in the upcoming Justice League movie, but as with many other non-white characters, Nubia has mostly slipped off the radar. Of course, there are others, but nobody as much in the spotlight as the many other male/female white superheroes.

Female superheroes work, as the past few years have proved pretty well and honestly, we deserve them. As we’ve seen from the success of shows like ‘Jessica Jones’ (which averaged nearly 5 million viewers per episode in its run), there is absolutely no reason that we can’t have a female superhero going head to head with a male one, especially when they’re stealing the spotlight in films that aren’t even about them. Also, you know we don’t do that “boys’ toys versus girls’ toys” thing anymore right? Somebody should send these guys a memo.

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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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