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At DU’s Satyawati College, There’s No Safe Space To Address Sexual Harassment

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By Shrishti Kedia:

Jon Krauker writes“Most women are all too familiar with men like Calvin Smith. Men, whose sense of prerogative renders them deaf when women say, ‘no thanks’, ‘not interested’.”

Harassment against women such as stalking or groping is something about which I have known, for it has been persistent in our society for a long time now. While women have been fighting against it for ages, the problem is still all-pervasive. There is not a single sphere of our society where harassment of women doesn’t take place – be it workplace or educational institutions. In my college too, there have been incidents of harassment, which have forced me to think if this is how the world will continue.

The incident which made me realise the severity of this problem was when I was followed by two boys from my own college. It was just another day at college, or so I thought. Our classes got over around 2 p.m. and I was heading back to my PG when two boys approached me to ask about the directions to the seminar room. I politely helped them out assuming that they were freshers. Later, when I was about to leave, they started asking weird questions. It felt especially weird as I had just met them. “Would you like to spend some time with us? Why are you not ready to do so?” I told them that I had a class to attend and I rushed to get out of college. While on a rickshaw on my way back to the PG, I noticed that the same guys were following me on their bike. They were driving the bike parallel to my rickshaw, and started asking me why I had lied to them and why was I being such a ‘baby’. I was completely freaked out – and so I asked my rickshaw driver to drive faster.

Fortunately, there was a police station nearby, so instead of getting off at my PG, I got off at the police station itself, which made the two boys go away. After ensuring that I was safe, I got back to my PG. Nonetheless, the fact that they were from the same college scared me. A polite ‘no’ had caused such a reaction from them, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had reacted bluntly. Thankfully, I never encountered them again – but I am sure I would have been in a different position had they got to know my exact address. I thought of filing a complaint against them, but the unprecedented consequences of doing so stopped me.

Moreover, I did not know anyone in college whom I could approach regarding my complaint; and this made me wonder if my college was ignorant towards this issue. Were the student community and the administration ill-informed about this problem?

The college administration doesn’t seem to be doing much on this front. The effective functioning of the Internal Complaint Committee, a mandatory committee in colleges of Delhi University has not been looked into properly. While the guidelines are supposedly followed, students seem to be unaware of the existence of the committee. There are no specific details either, concerning its purpose on the college website or on any notice board; except for the numbers of the committee members. Added to this, unlike other colleges of the University, there was no dedicated society to deal with gender sensitisation in Satyawati – until very recently. While I acknowledge that it’s a student’s responsibility to be aware of such a committee, the administration also needs to be specific in its communication and create a space for openly discussing issues and incidences of harassment on campus.

The Internal Complaint Committee at Satyawati, is made entirely of college employees and has no student representation, which in my opinion, fails its purpose and adds to the lack of communication between the student community and administration. Moreover, there are problems with the Act which implements the Internal Complaints Committee in all colleges. For instance, none of the provisions of the Act provides a remedy in cases where only students are involved. This means that if a student is harassed/molested/teased by a fellow classmate, there exist no remedial measures for him/her. The committee also excludes the LGBT community from its ambit – and these are only some matters of concern. There are other forums like DUWA (Delhi University Women’s Association) which cater to the problems faced by women and can be approached. There were also some steps taken by NSS (National Service Scheme) at Satyawati college, in collaboration with the Delhi Police to provide self-defence training, but this only happened once; and I believe that such events should be organised more often.

The students cannot absolve themselves of any responsibilities; I believe that the student community of Satyawati college, needs to take up initiatives within their power to help the cause – and the smallest way in which we can contribute is by raising our voice against such behaviour. Meanwhile, the administration also needs to put this issue on their priority list. They need to take more initiatives like awareness programs and workshops to help create a space for dialogue. The committee too needs to come forward, be less ignorant, more approachable and inclusive. The desired result of any event undertaken is not unattainable and the anti-ragging cell is a contemporary example of the same. A collaborative effort by the administration, the committee and the student community may be a possible and successful solution, which could lead to a desirable change.

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Image Source: Hindustan Times/ Getty Images
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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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