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‘I’ll Not Say I Have Made Peace’: An Indian-American Woman Reacts To Trump’s Victory

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By Chandra Ganguly:

My dear friends,

I see your posts in social media and though I am separate from you, somewhere far away from you, like you, I too weep. I am not sure why I am crying. Is it because a lying, misogynist, reality star is going to be our president? Is it because a woman was defeated by a man again? Is it because in this white America I feel more isolated than ever? Or are the tears for us women who live in a cage of some sort or the other no matter how gilded?

In this past year we have watched our personal struggles as women played out on the world’s biggest electoral stage. What do we have to do to take our equal place? What will it take? This election in America, we came so close. It seemed that finally one of our own, as imperfect as any of us but with astounding grit and a fighter, would finally break that glass ceiling for us, so the rest of us struggling against all the inequities and dangers and challenges that we must face every day, could believe that the time had finally come for us women to really achieve whatever we wanted?

But then in my country of origin, girls are still aborted illegally so that a male foetus can hopefully take her place; and in other places of the world, women are still bought and sold for pleasure and labour. So even as we grieve for Hillary, tell me my friends how can any one of us be free in any way when our sisters are still in so many chains that hold them down? This election, the fight was not about a man and a woman. It was about a type of man who diminishes us women, a type of man that most of us have encountered in some way or the other. A man less qualified, less educated, less experienced, less capable, less in almost every human way, who puts his hand on a woman, anywhere on her he pleases, he has said, because he could; this man has troubled us women at home, at our work places, at the bus stop, in our daily encounters; it was that this man defeated her that most of us find galling and painful, a slap to the face, a reminder of how far we still have to go in our quest for equality. Is the audacity of hope then just a lie that we have spoken to hide our real helplessness? Repeal our reproductive rights, build walls, impeach, imprison, body shame, grab us because you still can — we must accept that half the country has chosen a man of such words.

And yet, and yet, because we as a human species, especially we women, live on hope, it fuels our daily fight, I find my mind searching frantically for something positive to say. Finding meaning in tragedy is a human specialty. So this morning even as I wrote these words, even as my eyes filled up with tears now and then, I made myself lean back into my seat and take in the world and the people occupying the same office space I was working in. Around me, women of all colors, young men industrious in glasses and peering into their laptop screens, the barista behind the coffee bar who smiles every single time you approach her for a refill — ordinary people like me at their daily jobs. It would be simplistic to say that I felt love as I looked at them, or compassion or hope or any of the words we use so commonly – what I felt was more complex, a certain kinship is as close as I can come to describe it. At the same time this sadness, like a boulder, feels heavy. Putin has hailed Trump’s victory, as has the Ku Klax clan. The world has taken a gigantic leap backwards. How will we ever recover?

There is no neat ending to this letter. I will not say a prayer for peace, not here at least. I will not say the glass is half full or how far we have come because we women are now able to at least vote. I will not say I have made peace or let us make peace. I will not say the sun will rise again. All this we know as words formulated by our minds. All I can think is we must continue to do what we have been doing always — fight, educate and stand up for ourselves. The struggle would not have been over if the country had a woman for president. Our voices would have had a higher platform but the daily struggle would still have been ongoing and to that struggle then today, my friends, I bow my head. Meanwhile, thinking of that kinship to a people, including with those who voted in desperate hope for this new president, I urge you my friends that we need to do what we can in these troubled times to be there for each other — whether it be a meal to a stranger in need or a helping hand to a neighbor. Let us keep an eye out especially for those who are different from us, those disenfranchised by bigotry or ignorance. Let us make sure we stand up for them when they need us to. Love will trump hate we have hoped. In this we should not cede even as Mr. Trump prepares to march triumphantly into the White House. Let us keep an eye on each other and our hearts in our struggle, in this nothing has also changed, not yet.

With love,

Chandra.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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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