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As A Woman Living In India, Here’s Why I Sometimes Wish I Was Born A Man

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By Mahima Rose Angelin Varghese:

Growing up as a woman in a middle-class family in the suburban regions of the country is never an easy ride. I find myself dejected as I look upon my male counterparts getting to enjoy the simple joys of life which are snatched away from me because of my ‘female’ anatomy. I have always wondered how it would be to sit in the moist sand on the beach watching the gigantic waves hitting the rocks under the full moon sky. I want to roam around the streets enjoying the variegated moods of dusk or perhaps walk back home after a dinner or a late night show without worrying about the needles of the clock. I want to wear the clothes of my choice and walk down the road without those bloodshot eyes scrutinising my skin. I want to be among the crowd like we have during the great Pooram without worrying about my body. My female body is but a liability to my secret dreams and I confess at times I wish I was born a man. The wishes may seem to be the wanton desires of a woman for some and I can only let out a sigh.

My greatest wish is to pass each day without being a prey to sexual perverts as I commute to and fro. It is a prayer more than a wish for me and for many women who travel thus. Even the sacred sanctuaries to which we belong prove to be insecure for women regardless of their age. Out in the streets, a woman passes through the scrutinising gaze of those men screening through our outfits. In public transport, she tries to squeeze towards the safest corner away from groping hands and tumescent pants. Out in the streets, she walks away from lascivious comments pretending to have not heard them. She cannot choose the easiest subways if she doesn’t wish to make an encounter with the ‘show-men’. Nothing is more agonising than the censure made against women for being the ‘victim’. She is found downright culpable for her dress, for travelling at ‘that’ time at ‘that’ place or with ‘that’ person. She may be further charged for her past and present behaviour and the real culprit is not only saved but is justified. It doesn’t matter who the girl is, no man possesses the right to touch her without her consent. Her background simply does not give anyone license to molest her.

Kochi became witness to mass protests for the right to kiss in public while the moralists clamoured against the loss of values. I do not wish to take any sides but I wonder whether we don’t have other burning issues at stake? Besides, the so-called moralists who would dissent making a hue and cry if they come across someone in the act of love-making might also ironically be those people who do not make any move if a woman is abused in public. Such is the hypocrisy of the modern day moralists. Some months back I was travelling in a private bus in the city. I faced this unfortunate incident wherein I was harassed by a man. I gathered some courage and slapped him but he skedaddled and jumped out of the bus. What felt worse to me was the excruciating silence in the bus as this drama went on. Not even the elderly women or men said a word; neither did the driver nor the conductor.

Harassment in public has become a matter of daily occurrence and is much tolerated as if the only resolution for a woman is to be on the vigil and be her own protector because the society sees the woman as both the ‘victim’ and the causative agent. Of course, a great deal of news of unfortunate rape events finds space in print and television media and it gets followed up by garrulous discussions and debates proceeding to protests, candle light marches, angry posts on social media and then it all dies out until we find the next prey.

Has anything changed? What should be done? Shouldn’t it begin right in the families? Do we teach our children it is rude to stare? Do we teach them how to treat and respect women? Education in the schools is not just about making a batch with complete A+ holders; they should envisage the upbringing of citizens who have civic sense, who are polite and respectful to fellow beings. Let them teach boys to respect women than merely teaching young girls dos and don’ts. They should know what is consensual and what is not. Furthermore, had there been strict rules, immediate trials and punishments, even out of fear the crime rates could have been curbed. Still, money and political lineage favours a criminal and women endure a double stabbing. Not to mention that there are Indians who support anti-female infanticide.

I can only say that if the nation cannot protect its daughters, it does not make much sense. I can only console myself that I fare better than many women who are denied their fundamental rights and are treated as mere slaves and pleasure toys for men in many parts of the country and in quite a few countries. Even the blood stains are considered impure enough to deny her the right to worship. Menstrual blood is a sign of fertility; she bleeds for the whole of humankind. Men and women are made to complement each other and never to suppress one another for no slave has ever loved his master. Even if this article finds space in the public domain, I am agitated as I realise that it may be part of tomorrow’s forgotten history. All I can hope and pray for is that when tomorrow falls, I shall not be the prey.

Featured image for representation only. Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr.

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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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