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Trump Isn’t The Only One Promoting Rape Culture; The Clintons Did It Way Back In The ‘90s

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By Rohini Banerjee:

“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

These shocking, terrifying words uttered by US presidential candidate Donald Trump have been all over the news in the past few days, highlighting how dangerously predominant rape culture still is. In this recording from 2005 (uncovered by The Washington Post last week), we hear Trump bragging about his license to sexually assault women just because he was famous. But it doesn’t just stop there – during the second presidential debate, Trump defended and nearly dismissed the gravity of these comments by calling it “locker room banter,” which was even more horrifying because he implied that this is how men talk about women in general and invoked the same old (and deeply problematic) ‘boys will be boys’ rhetoric. This rhetoric was made worse when on Monday (October 17), Melania Trump, during an interview with CNN, defended Trump’s comments, painting him as the victim by saying that he was ‘egged on’ into ‘boy talk’.

Melania’s comments were shocking, disturbing, and showed how deeply both women and men are conditioned into normalising rape culture because it is as common as ‘boy talk’ – but her comments didn’t come as a surprise, because during the course of the entire Trump campaign, she and all the other women involved in it (his two daughters and his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway) have been constantly excusing and standing by his horrifying and deplorable statements against women. Unfortunately, this isn’t an exception and women, especially in the past decade, have continued to excuse or condone assault by their politician (or any other public figure) husbands and relatives – including Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Clinton has positioned herself in this presidential race as a feminist champion, as the complete counterpoint of a bigoted, vitriolic Trump; and yet, when her husband and erstwhile president Bill Clinton went through a series of sex scandals in the 90s – with multiple women coming forward to accuse him of harassment and assault – Hillary had stood by him. Hillary’s silence when it comes to Bill’s assault accusations is telling – it was politically motivated, as if she was ignoring her husband’s blatant disregard of female consent for the ‘greater good’ – and even though many of her supporters choose to ignore this about Hillary and give her a leeway because the ‘90s were a far less liberal time and it was difficult for women to speak out, it still doesn’t change the fact that Bill barely faced any legal consequences of his actions, and Hillary continues to support him and be married to him. In fact, when the accusations against Bill had just surfaced, Hillary sat beside him during an interview in 1992 playing the dutiful wife as he defended himself against his allegations. Melania Trump seems to have taken a page out of the same book in her defence of Donald Trump’s horrific comments.

Closer home, when prominent Tehelka journalist Tarun Tejpal was convicted for sexual assault in 2013, the editor of Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhury had reportedly sent around an email to her employees that Tejpal’s actions had been a ‘lapse of judgement’. Another public, widely talked about assault case, and yet another woman related to the perpetrator excusing his actions. This is a deeply disturbing occurrence, which is basically yet another convoluted means of blaming the survivor for her assault rather than her assaulter, and this, again is why we need to talk about rape culture. By calling the casual suggestion of “grabbing a woman by the pussy” without her consent as innocuous ‘boy talk’ and by supporting the actions of serially accused sexual harassers just because they might be celebrated public figures reinforces how assault is still seen as the survivor’s fault, and how the narratives of female survivors continue to be ignored in favour of the credibility of the male perpetrator.
Since the leaking of the Trump Tapes, countless women have been coming forward to accuse Trump of having sexually harassed or assaulted them, and their stories have been truly horrific. These include that of a former Miss USA contestant who Trump kissed twice without her consent, a receptionist at Trump Tower who he kissed against her will, of Trump walking in on teen pageant contestants while they were changing, of him sexually harassing a woman during the 1993 White House Correspondent Dinner and so on and so forth. There have been multiple attempts from Trump supporters to discredit these women already. But not just that, many of Trump’s female supporters have actually come forward with slogans such as “he can grab me by the pussy anytime,” continuing to reinforce how disturbing our response to sexual violence is, how rape culture continues to run rampant.

This is the culture that spawns men like Stanford rapist Brock Turner – who got away with reduced jail time because apparently, his future as an Olympic swimmer takes precedence over the trauma of his survivor. This is the culture which conditions women to accept assault as a reality, which conditions men to continue to joke about assault as if it’s ‘boy talk’. And this, is exactly why we need to have more and more conversations about rape culture, and hold these entitled male public figures accountable for their actions rather than ignore or excuse their behaviour.

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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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