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There Are Many Forms Of Feminism To Fight The Many Forms Of Patriarchy

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By Amrita De:

A few days ago, I was asked for what felt like the 100th time, that if I am against discriminations et al., why would I box myself in as a feminist?

Why wouldn’t I instead call myself a Humanist, maybe? These questions are immediately followed by explanations of how feminism is narrow because it only stands for women. I would tend to agree that feminism has been exclusionary; mainstream feminism has been critiqued for only fighting for rights of white, cisgender, heterosexual and (In India) Savarna women.

But the people wanting to replace feminism with humanism are certainly not arguing for intersectionality; they simply believe that feminism somehow privileges women over men. They find feminism pointless, even discriminatory towards privileged groups. They speak ‘for’ women while falling into patriarchal traps of wishing to protect women’s ‘honor’, demanding rapists to be castrated, ‘respecting’ women for their ‘divinity’/ ‘sacrificial motherhood’, etc.

While I am grateful for the people who have patiently called me out on any non-intersectional feminist stands that I have taken, understanding feminism simply as ‘privileging’ women over men is to understand patriarchy simply as a system of men dominating over women, and feminism wanting to reverse this order.

At risk of repeating this oft-repeated assertion – feminism does not want female dominance in place of male dominance; it wants equality. After years of sustained critique for being exclusionary, feminism has come to stand for dismantling all hierarchies of gender, caste, class, race, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, etc.

These oppressive systems together make up Patriarchy, which is what Feminism hates, not men. I do believe that feminism by definition has to be intersectional, and it is then accessible and stands for all.

An intersectional feminism understands that –

Patriarchy Oppresses Everyone – But In A Graded Hierarchy

Patriarchy is a graded system of hierarchies of one class over another, one caste over another, one religion over another, one language group over another, one sexuality over another, one ability over another and so on and on till you have a massive pyramid with many layers of oppression.

Those at the top of the pyramid (upper caste, male, cisnormative, heternormative, able, etc.) have the most power and control over resources, and those at the bottom have the least.

Within each category of people (say, Brahmins) the males of that group overall have more power over the females (most Brahmin men have more power than most Brahmin women). This is true for those at the bottom of the pyramid too (Dalit men will have overall more power than Dalit women). This does not mean that all females in the pyramid are at the bottom (Brahmin women certainly have more power in most aspects than Dalit men. But in some situations where equations of gender overpower equations of caste, Dalit men will have more power than Brahmin women).

There might of course be a sizeable population of poor Brahmins, but they wouldn’t face discrimination for being Brahmin, they would face problems for being poor – that said, being a poor Brahmin is radically different from being a poor Dalit.

Women Can Be Oppressors Too

Following from the above, it is easy to make out that women are in oppressive positions – both towards other women and towards men. Oppression under patriarchy is not done through any particular category of people, though of course majority of the oppression is through those in power.

As soon as any one of the oppressed takes on a patriarchal role, they can easily become the oppressor. Many a times, cases of ‘women being enemies of women’ are cited as examples of how feminism has got it wrong – that women oppress other women out of jealousy, that men usually don’t oppress women at all.

The second part of that statement is inherently untrue, one only needs to take a cursory look at the vast statistics of violence against women, and misogyny, perpetrated by men.

The first part unfortunately, is not that untrue. Women do oppress other women – not because they are simplistically jealous of each other – but because of the relative position of power that patriarchy places them in.

It must be said here that between men and women, women face hatred, violence and violation of basic human rights because they are women. All things considered, men are not discriminated against for being men. They are surely discriminated against, but because of their class/caste/religion and so on. Does that mean men and boys are not oppressed because of their gender? They are.

There Are Men And Boys Who Suffer Gender-Based Violence

The creation of artificial and unequal gender roles disempower women as a whole, while also affecting men.

Boys are not allowed to cry, boys are pressurized by peers into various forms of toxic masculinity, men who are powerless and vulnerable in respect to other men and sometimes to women are raped, men who do not confirm to ‘manliness’ get harassed and mocked, transmen are not accepted as men, men are not seen as capable of taking care of children and therefore lose custody of their children in case of conflict with their partner, young men are legally accused of ‘raping‘ their consenting partners because the patriarchal society frowns upon sexual activity of young people especially when belonging to different castes, etc.

It is patriarchy that causes these men’s rights violations, and it is feminism which fights against these violations. Not the men’s rights activists – they are more men’s privilege activists; they are homophobic, transphobic and sexist.

Women and men who follow the gender roles prescribed for them have relatively more power than those who don’t. Those who don’t follow these roles – women and men – suffer in various degrees.

Many Feminisms For Many Patriarchies

Different kinds of patriarchies are more prevalent in different regions, cultures or ages, depending on the system of oppression that it allies with.

For example, in India, caste and religion oppress the most – so patriarchy takes on the form of Brahminical Patriarchy. On a global scale, the capitalist economy is impacting people’s lives more than religion or politics – so patriarchy on a world stage is taking the form of Capitalist Patriarchy.

Feminism fights this Patriarchy. Different kinds of feminisms have developed to fight these different kinds of patriarchy – so there is Ambedkarite feminism, Marxist feminism, Eco-feminism, radical feminism, queer feminism, etc.

Feminism, ideally, has to be a number of feminisms that are accessible to people and made by people as they need them. Feminism thus is, very simply, for all.

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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.

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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.

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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