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“A Soft Voice Is Better Than No Voice” – Why Taking A Stand Is Important

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By Shreen Vaid

Barbara Coloroso. To those of you who are wondering who that maybe, let me tell you about this strong woman who taught me a valuable lesson at the beginning of my teenage years.

I travelled a lot when I was growing up. The school I graduated from was my 7th, might mention I joined it in grade 8. When I joined this school, I was bullied at first. It was absolutely horrible and the things which were said about me were so nasty that it devastated and broke me down.

Not only did I feel lonely with regards to friends and peers but also lonely and hollow from within. I was a lost and hopeless person who could see other girls in my grade undergoing a similar experience but did not have the courage to share my story with them and hear theirs for myself.

It was then that my school had decided to invite Barbara Coloroso to speak to us. She’d just written a book, “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander”, and was going to talk to us about hurting one another and about violent thoughts and actions and how to overcome them.

She said a very simple thing, “The minute you place someone outside your circle of moral concern, you are equally to be blamed for what happens to them next, for you did not intervene when you could have.”

A soft voice is better than no voice.

She demanded us to raise a voice and take a stand. That talk changed me. It was the first time in a year that I had felt strong and felt like I needed to take control of my life and other things around me.

The bunch of us feeling weak were at first angry, then powerful and today, we are at peace. I learnt to intervene in a moral crisis and never considered it as someone else’s responsibility.

A few years later, when I was at university, a friend of mine shared his favourite quote with me. It said, “The hottest places in hell are saved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” As I read it, I shouted out in my mind, “Hey, this is just like what Barbara Coloroso had taught us.” No, the quote didn’t belong to her, but the wisdom behind it was the same.

Unfortunately, the world we live in today has so many diverse ranges of issues that could use our voices. There are the obvious ones like the Syrian refugee crisis, communal hatred which leads to violence (Xenophobia), the Kashmir unrest and the latest killings of the Indian Army soldiers at Uri. These are just to name a few on top of my head.

There is pain, helplessness, grief, struggle and injustice in all of these issues. Something else that they share in common is that they are all inflicted by men. These conflicts are just like that high school scenario of the bully, the bullied and the bystander.

I need to remember that 14-year-old girl’s fears and how she suppressed them and took sides. She decided not to be a bystander. While high school bullies were easy, real life ones are a little more challenging. But, the circle is the same. Silence will only encourage the bully more, and the oppressed will get more humiliated. Actions are the only cure for indifference.

I feel strongly for the Syrian refugees. What do I do? I learn their stories. I hear of individuals, their names, their experiences and don’t forget their fight. I remember them and in my own odd ways picture being with them to ensure that they don’t feel forgotten. Because while I cannot go and bring them from Europe to my home in India for various reasons, I can remember them. To forget them and let them be yet another fallen face would mean to hurt them for the second time. I can also create awareness about them, write about them and share their stories of resilience.

I feel absolutely disgusted when people hate based on religion. What do I do when I hear people say appalling things filled with hatred? After letting them speak, I speak out stronger and bolder against meaningless hatred. Discrimination based on things like race, religion needs to end. I read about it, learn about the “other” and removed fear and ignorance by finding common ground. I tell others to do the same.

Now comes the most challenging part. I hear the heart-wrenching cries of the Kashmiris suffering the third straight month of unrest, and I also see the tear-jerking tales of the Indian Army soldiers who were ruthlessly killed in Uri.

But, I’ve been told these are two opposite sides. I cannot side with both their narratives. Apparently, it is an “either-or” situation. I don’t get why.

I simply feel pain for human suffering. I feel anger for injustices done on individuals. I pray for peace for everyone and everywhere, it will be my concern. You cannot heal one’s wound by digging a grave for another, although that is a simpler option and a natural response to the feeling of frustration.

To hit the bully is to become the bully. We – the common people who aren’t the military or the government, the ones who vent out on social media and in our smaller communities – need to find non-violent ways of healing wounds, of standing up for the bullied.

Amid the hate messages on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp, we (the non-military and non-government personnel) need to find a voice in times of moral crisis without holding onto grudges or judgements.

You and I should focus on not forgetting these stories of struggle, the injustices suffered by men and women, and try to find resilience in their experiences. It is our responsibility to be compassionate, tolerant and empathetic while standing up for lost voices.

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Image source: Steven Depolo/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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