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Violence Against Women Is Not Yours Or My Problem Alone

By Prageeyaa Khanna:

The world is about to experience the 17th year of the 21st century, but, we are still grappling with a woman being groped in a crowded train, a police constable refusing to file the complaint of eve-teasing because it is the concern of another police station or a three-month-old rape victim being neglected by hospital authorities. It gives me a chill down my spine, and, I really hope that it would do that for everyone. We live in a day and age where a barbaric gang rape can shock the nation only for so many days.

Human memory is not the problem, human behaviour is. The need of the hour is a fundamental transformation of how women are perceived across the various demographics and psychographics on the globe. In order for mankind to evolve and free itself from the clutches of heinous crimes offending the gender of a woman, it is incumbent that each person takes the responsibility of believing in the dignity of life, and by life I refer to all genders.

There seems to be strong ideological contradictions in a diverse country like India. Where the body of a woman is the temple of god, fatal objects are inserted into her vagina. Where the goddesses are prayed to with passion and belief, she is brutally raped, mercilessly murdered and thrown in the same river that bids the goddess goodbye. We have empowered the woman today, but, terms and conditions apply and she is empowered with a clause of entitlement to a man.

“You are a working woman after marriage because I am not like the other husbands, you can wear what you want because I can protect you, you can do whatever you want once you are married.” Yes, we live in a society where we give the power but we claim the source of it. The absence of an egalitarian approach is too deep-rooted in our society and so intertwined with our daily lives that we don’t even notice it. These rigid beliefs and stereotypes have generously contributed to the misplaced sanctity of the body of woman.

Eve-teasing, molestation, cyber-bullying, sexual harassment at the workplace, child sexual abuse, stalking, rape, murder: women are facing a range of sexual crimes on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps people have even stopped reacting to this anymore because it is so common. People are now operating from tolerance and a strong sense of denial. Every woman, at some age or situation in life, would have faced, is facing or will face a type of sexual violence and/or abuse.

The problem is looking us in the eye. We cannot continue to allow this. But how should I stop this? How many guys am I going to give it back to? How many police complaints will I file? If every woman actually reported every incident, women would be disbelieved for crying wolves. But, the truth is that she is not a crying wolf but that is exactly how many times it has happened with her today. We need to believe them. They are not suffering from hallucinations.

This social evil has to be uprooted from the fabric of the society for good. SheSays undertook that every boy and girl needs to be able to identify this as their problem and not just that of the survivor. The situation will begin to show light when each one is sensitised enough to first acknowledge that this is happening, secondly that it is a problem, thirdly, that it is every person’s responsibility to not tolerate this at all and lastly, believing that every one is an agent of change if they want to be.

Attacking the grassroots level was required. We set out on a mission to educate the youth that you have to be gender sensitive and be proud about it. The youth have to feel that this issue is relevant to them. Every session that I conduct with the youth, my opening question to them is always – “Do you think that this is not your problem? Do you believe that you are too young to discuss this issue and that you will not be taken seriously?” In every session the response was – “No.” They do feel connected. They do feel the need to give their opinion and they all have a lot to share on the subject, some from experience and some from knowledge, but they all feel party to the problem.

Our aim is to empower and enable each person that we reach out to, first, fully understand the sanctity of their bodies and beings, and understanding that respecting the gender and rights associated with gender are stem from the basic human right of dignity of every life. We created the Sexual Violence Preventive and Educative Curriculum to comprehensively address these issues and educate people that perhaps what they are brushing off as something that always happens could potentially put the perpetrator behind bars. I know it is perceived as overrated, but educating the mind in the real sense with respect will induce a more progressive approach towards women and their bodies.

I am no exception to sexual abuse or harassment. I wanted to do much more than just feel frustrated. I was craving to connect personal with the youth, getting their insight on the subject and attempting to make a small change by having a healthy discussion with them on the subject, both educative and preventive.

I joined SheSays as a gender advocacy lead and I support the founder in her vision of not only spreading awareness on the subject but actually taking real-time action, and empowering every life to take this action. By action, I emphasise the effort in training the mind to bring about a behavioural change at the most basic level of humanity, by accepting the body of a woman and cherishing it with respect. Action means being vocal about the subject and not slipping into a complacent zone of tolerating it. Action means parents discussing this issue with their kids at home. Action means the survivor not becoming another victim of mental anxiety or depression. All of this will happen, when each of us believe that we are agents of change. This realisation is gender sensitisation.

As every new endeavour brings forth, this one too has its challenges. The biggest one being sustaining your own belief in the cause and not losing sight of the end goal. While interacting with young adolescents it gets really challenging to capture their interest and keep them engaged in the session throughout. The key is to adapt each session with the crowd that I address. Some of the adolescents come up and share their personal struggles on the subject and it does get unnerving to know that their parents encourage brushing such incidents under the carpet.

We were faced with the assessment that there is a lack of parental inclination to engage in healthy and informative discussions on the subject, further suppression and shaming of the victim, unabashed repetition of sexual offences, bystanders conveniently ignoring such crimes, possibility of increased risky behaviour and indulgence in destructive activities due to such incidents being shut down, and the lack of trust in the authorities to bring about justice. This came to us from a range of sessions across institutions like R.N Podar, St. Xavier’s and also with children of the Dharavi slum, which then lead me to building a new curriculum on child sexual abuse primarily for sensitising the parents and encouraging them to become agents of change by fearlessly addressing these issues at home and investing in educating their children to not ignore any untoward advance that is offensive. We are also working towards creating a unique curriculum that would cater to workplace specific gender sensitisation.

The children would say after the session that, “It is essential to stop every form of abuse, starting at the most basic level” and that “Ignoring a crime is a crime [in] itself” and also, “Now that I know my rights, I can help the [survivor] better” which gives us hope of the domino effect of conducting the sessions as a positive initiative.

The next step is to work more deeply into the fact that sexual abuse is a public health issue and more awareness needs to be brought amongst the women of the socially and economically backward strata of society on sexual health and hygiene.

The one thing that we must not forget is that we are all agents of change, whether progressive or regressive, that depends on our choice. SheSays simply envisions every boy and every girl to bring forth this change through education, behavioural change and impactful action, beginning with truly respecting ones own and the being of another, without exception.

If you would like to get involved with us or support the work we do, you could visit our website or directly email us.

 

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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.

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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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