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Next Time You Use The Word ‘Gender Inequality,’ Keep These Things In Mind

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Have you ever tried writing or saying a word over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over?

The word eventually starts to lose all meaning and you start to wonder if you’ve been spelling it right all your life. There’s a term for that phenomenon where a word tires out your brain- it’s called semantic satiation.

As someone who works in gender dimensions of economic development, I see the words ‘gender inequality’ get thrown around more than a cricket ball at Eden Gardens and it’s fairly easy to get fatigued of it, to lose the meaning of the term for the trees. At times like this, I find it important to re-centre my understanding of gender inequality, to focus in on the fuzziness that pops up when my brain gets tired of ubiquitous buzzwords – because here’s the thing: gender inequality is real regardless of what some men’s rights activists around the world would have you believe.

Even before people learn what “gender inequality” is, they get derailed by people who say “I’m not a feminist, but-” or men’s rights activists mobilising against ‘false allegations,’ perpetuating ultra-masculine ideals and pushing against feminist/LGBTQ movements. These communities take advantage of society’s general misunderstanding of gender inequality and gender activism, and try to keep them in the dark.

Although our neural pathways sometimes get overloaded seeing the term everywhere, the dangers of succumbing to the fuzziness are too great. It pays to know what we’re up against. So let’s get cracking.

First off, there are a lot of ways experts define gender inequality because like most things in life, definition is interpretation. The most straightforward definition identifies gender inequality as “allowing people different opportunities due to perceived differences based solely on issues of gender.” Gender inequality can also be defined as “differences in the status, power and prestige women and men have in groups, collectivities, and status.” While the first definition focuses on disparities in opportunity, the second highlights disparities in perceptions of gender.

Amartya Sen provides a different framework to assess gender inequality through his ‘capabilities approach’, which assesses people’s potential functionings – a capability could entail the freedom to be healthy, to work, to take part in a community. When applied to gender inequality, Sen’s capabilities approach can help us evaluate whether women and men have the same access, resources, and potential to exercise freedom and lead fulfilled lives.

From my experience, gender inequality encompasses all of these. Gender inequality means that people have different opportunities, levels of power, privilege, and capabilities because of perceived differences based solely on societal constructs of gender.

But that’s the zoomed out concept of gender inequality – what does all of that actually mean in our day-to-day lives?

Gender inequality manifests itself in almost every aspect of life – whether that’s in the way society expects women to cover up their bodies or the abysmally low number of women who sit on executive boards or the fact that women drop out of sports at twice the rate of men. And just like we sometimes get fatigued from reading the term ‘gender inequality’, we often lose sight of just how large that gender gap can be in our everyday lives.

For example, do you know how many women representatives are currently in the Lok Sabha? Out of 543 Members of Parliament, there are only 66 female members – that constitutes a measly 12.5 percent, far from the target 33 percent, let alone being actually representative of the Indian female population. That gender gap is important because that means every time legislation that tries to remedy gender inequality, a room that is 87.5 percent men will evaluate it and vote on it. Which means that people who have never experienced the panic of having a period start in the middle of the day while stranded sanitary pad-less or the fear of entering male-dominated spaces will be the ones with the power to vote on those issues. It’s not to say that men can’t be allies – they can and they are – but only women can ever truly speak to those experiences and formulate practical solutions to those problems.

Or let’s look at the gender pay gap – around the world, women get paid less than men and India is no exception. On average, women in India get paid around 40 percent less than men. Back in October 2014, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came under fire for his terribly sage advice to women, saying that “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise.” And that reflects the reality of the workplace for women all over the world. Not only is it difficult to get paid the fair amount for your work, it’s difficult to get those raises or promotions and to nab leadership positions. In fact in India, a depressing 7.7 percent of board seats and 2.7 percent of board chairs are held by women. Once again, it becomes tough to advocate for yourself when there are a lack of role models and mentors who share the same experiences as you. And that’s how gender inequality continues to perpetuate itself. That’s why there is still no country in the world where women hold equal economic and political status to men.

And it’s not like gender inequality exists in a vacuum – it has some pretty real effects on society and the world as a whole.

For one, gender inequality costs us big time. In 2009, two economists, Stephan Klassen and Francesca Lamanna, conducted a study that compared economic growth rates to education and employment gaps across several regions around the world between 1960 and 2000. They found that “persistent gender gaps not only impact women, but are damaging to the socioeconomic development of entire populations.” Gender equality could mean a boost of more than 12 percentage points to our GDP and billions of dollars in created revenue.

When we fail to address gender inequality, it also becomes difficult to solve other problems. A UN report published in 2014 found that the progress made in the past 20 years towards reducing global poverty is at risk of being reversed. The root cause? A failure to address widening inequality and to strengthen women’s rights. According to another report published by the World Health Organization, denying primary education to girls was found to negatively impact fertility rates, health literacy, and other healthy behaviours.

Luckily, there are a lot of people out there fighting against these problems, challenging the narratives of some men’s rights groups and keeping gender equality a top priority for governments and societies.

Several rural women’s movements like the AROH Mahila Kisan Manch-led campaign in Uttar Pradesh or the tribal women of Odisha have been able to leverage their voices to challenge land rights issues, often with the full support of men and whole communities. In doing so, these activists often expand access to land and property rights for men and women while also preventing destructive extraction.

Other campaigns like Why Loiter and Girls at Dhabas challenge the perpetuation of gender norms in everyday life and aim to reclaim spaces that traditionally shut women out. Through these individual acts of resistance, the participants open up dialogues around gender inequality and inspire others around them to question traditional narratives.

All of which to say, gender inequality is more than just a buzzword. When we fight gender inequality, whether that be through triumphant Facebook posts fighting against period-shaming or standing for election in your locality or marching in the streets to seek #JusticeforJisha, we’re pushing back against all of this and more. I mean, this article doesn’t even begin to touch on issues of intersectionality – how class, caste, race, regionalism, nationality play into issues of gender inequality. Heck, we didn’t even address issues of gender inequality for trans people!

Listen, I get it – it’s depressing to think about all that gender inequality entails and when we think about it often, it’s easy to let it all get fuzzy in the brain, to lose sight of all that we are fighting for and against. But it’s what we do when that happens that matters. Reach out to an ally, read one of these books, have a cup of chai, recharge your batteries – then get back out there and keep fighting the good fight.

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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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