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“You Are The Weaker Sex”: Patriarchy, As Every Indian Woman Knows It

By Astha Rattan:

“Patriarchy: A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.”

The above two lines precisely represent the dictionary meaning of the word, a world where women are neither treated with equal respect nor granted equal rights. While the dictionary defines it in just a few safe words, ask an Indian woman and her reaction would be a fairly glorious introduction to its unbound existence. Look around and see it for yourself. The moment a girl is born, is the golden chance for the world to jump in and present her with a carefully designed rule book, such that her stay is marked by many instances of the realisation that ‘well, you are the weaker sex.’ It is like ‘you were not supposed to exist but now that you do, better follow us.’

I grew up in a family where everyone loved my sisters and me as much as the boys, it was a happy world where I got everything I ever wanted. But unfortunately, that was just my family and things changed as I grew up. While summer vacations meant internships for the guys, it meant the only time a mother could teach her daughter how to cook or sew because eventually she was supposed to do it for her family. Soon I realised that all along, I had been accustomed to patriarchy in subtle ways, so seamlessly infused in my daily life that I failed to recognise it.

So, when I wanted to cut my hair short and get a tattoo, my uncle asked my parents to watch out, stating examples of how his daughter was the perfect lady who carried herself in decorum. Just because I had dared defy how society envisioned a girl, I was a rebel who needed to be shown her place. Things have been this way for years, it is not new. When I look at my mother, I realise how much she has lost to this system and I too would be expected to. When she was born, she got her father’s surname and lived with it unless she was married off and she had to adopt her husband’s surname. I don’t know how often she wonders but I wonder every day about who my mother is? Mr. X’s daughter or Mr. Y’s wife? Who is she minus these imposed identities?

Patriarchy has been prevalent in our society for years, in sometimes obvious and otherwise latent forms. Our movies are a perfect portrayal; with actresses getting far less pay and credit than their male counterparts, the struggle to be heard and seen is real. Moreover, how women are portrayed in movies brings a clear picture to notice. Our actresses are grooving to songs like ‘baby doll’ and ‘chittiya kalaiyan’, in attires made to expose their bodies. As soon as she gets married, she stops getting roles, I really fail to understand the link between marriage and someone’s acting skills. But I guess there has to be one!

Women continue to be at the receiving end of sexual jibes and body-shaming comments. It is a dream to spend a single day without being ogled by shameless men who won’t take their eyes off even after you noticing. It’s not just about strangers, even your own family and friends mindlessly say things that make you realise of being a girl. You are constantly schooled about how you should look, what you should wear, where you should go. Ditch your makeup for a day and people will ask you if you had been unwell, act a little angry and it will be about ‘that time of the month.’

I always have a tough time adjusting to how guys make fun of you in a healthy way, how getting late is all because of the girl taking too much time for getting ready and how compliments are always served with taunts. This one time, a colleague was impressed with my driving skills. He wanted to praise me and so he exclaimed “You are too good a driver for a girl” and all I could do was to laugh it off. I failed to take offense at it because it was not his mistake. This is what he had grown up listening to, no one ever told him not to jokingly pull the hair of the little girl as a kid or to let a girl carry a chair for herself because she could. Instead, he was told that a gentleman had to carry a girl’s bags, open the gate for her and act strong when he made fun of a little girl, people laughed. As he grew up, not much changed; the jokes just went too far. His male ego grew, he started reacting to a ‘no’ with violence and soon became a nightmare.

As if there was any scope left, our traditions make things worse. Patriarchy is served at our dining table, where men get the first meal while women serve. Take a look at marriages – after marriage, a girl is supposed to leave her family and move in with her husband’s family. She is supposed to sacrifice her dreams and begin again. It is not just about women who are struggling to earn an identity, for a woman the struggle seems to never end. Even women who have reached the boardrooms have to prove their potential and fight to be taken seriously.

It is a long fight to go before women are taken seriously and treated with equal respect because somehow not everyone seems to get the idea of ‘equality.’ But given how feminists of today have been successful in creating a non-diluted wave of conversation, things will surely change for the better, later if not sooner.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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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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