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Change Mindsets: Laws Can’t Compel Parents To Love Their ‘Unwanted’ Girls

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By Mayuri Khanna:

Both ‘female foeticide’ (the killing of a girl child in the womb) and ‘female infanticide’ (killing of baby girls after birth) have as if become common phenomena these days, resulting in abandoning baby girls or leaving them starved to die.

The government conducted a study that revealed that nearly three million girls, one million more than boys, are ‘missing’ in 2011 compared to 2001 and there are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981. According to the report, female child population in the age group of 0-6 years was 78.83 million in 2001 which declined to 75.84 million in 2011.

The population of girl child was 15.88% of the total female population of 496.5 million in 2001, which declined to 12.9% of the total number of 586.47 million women in 2011.

There are many reasons stated for these acts, such as preferring a boy child, the prevailing dowry system, poverty, and socio-economic conditions, lack of a woman’s decision-making power etc. But these can’t be reasons enough for taking a life.

I feel that there has been a decline in the moral and ethical standard of the people which is the primary reason behind this deterioration. This can be evidently seen in the regions like Haryana and Punjab where child sex ratio is the lowest.

The government, civil society and various other sections have taken many initiatives in this regard. The government has adopted a life-cycle approach for overall empowerment of women and for maintaining their dignity. But do you think government can improve the thinking process or moral standard of the people or the society by placing few laws?

This question has led many people like me to perceive the issue of female infanticide in a new way. The government has made laws for banning legal abortions, for child marriage, for uprooting dowry practices, for banning sex selective tests, etc. but how can the government compel either of the parents to love their unwanted girls?

The parents who are ‘not able to’ go for female foeticide, leave them to die after birth by not taking proper care of her nutrition and health. In a recent case – A father abandoned his two daughters, aged seven and three in Delhi.  The girls were found in extremely poor health, with maggots feeding on their heads. The girls had been starving for a week.

Girl children in India are usually abandoned on roadsides, temples, garbage bins, public toilets. Are you thinking how can the parents’ pride or convenience outweigh the right to life of an individual? Well, the million dollar question here is who is responsible for such a pitiful state of girls in the society – parents, government or the so called ‘civilised society’? And what steps can be taken to improve the situation?

It is said that individuals comprose the basic element of society and development of an individual should make for a civilised and better society. But in case of India, it seems that the existence of individual thinking has ended due to strict norms and cultural taboos. The societal pressure on an individual is often very high; this reduces the power of an individual to differentiate between right and wrong.

The ill practices of dowry, the patriarchal thinking – they need to change. Awareness campaigns need to be catered through art, music to touch the emotional chord of the individual. Every religion condemns the practice of female infanticide, hence the participation of various religious groups can be initiated to generate the value of gender equality. The change has already started as recently women have been allowed to visit various religious places which were restricted for them. But many changes are yet to come.

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        Read more about the campaign here.

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        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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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