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Why These Women Students Are Boldly Sharing Photos Celebrating Their Body Hair

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By Vidhipssa Mohan:

If you scroll through your social media feed, then you would definitely come across the hashtag #NoShaveNovember. Millions of people around the world celebrate the month of November by foregoing shaving. The idea behind this campaign is to save one’s monthly hair-maintenance expenses and donate the amount to No-Shave November, a web based non-profit organisation to create cancer awareness. This initiative aims to raise awareness by urging people to embrace their hair – as it is one thing that most cancer patients lose. In support of this campaign, mostly men are seen sharing pictures of their beards on social media, whereas the campaign nowhere explicitly mentions that it is just for men. Therefore, women have started contributing in their own ways as they feel the campaign is not inclusive. This maybe the result of the age-old patriarchal notion of how women are always ‘supposed to be’ hairless, and how men should always embrace hair on their body.

The students of Abhivyakti, the theatre society of Maitreyi College, decided to celebrate their own version of #NoShaveNovember through their play “Uncivilised Daughters”. The play promotes body positivity so that women feel confident in their own bodies and are not perturbed by society’s unrealistic expectations. To support their campaign, these students posted pictures of their unshaved and unwaxed bodyparts with #NoShaveNovember to fight the stigma of women having body hair. While this campaign started by students of Maitreyi, an all-women college, makes no mention of donating money for cancer awareness, it challenges society’s unachievable standards of beauty set for women.

Malvika Singh, the President of Abhivyakti, explained the motive behind the campaign. “We are doing this campaign to openly challenge the stereotypical mindset of our patriarchal society. The very reason of us taking part in ‘No Shave November’ is to break the stereotype, a stereotype which lies hidden under the unreasonable guise of hygiene and ugliness.”A similar movement was also started on Twitter this July  by Adele Labo, a school student mocked for not shaving her hair. On her Twitter handle, it is written, “Les princesses ont des poils”, which roughly translates to ‘Princesses have hair’. The posts related to the campaign, on Abhivyakti’s official Facebook page, has received over 50 shares and more than 150 likes, till date.

The post has been appreciated by many people for challenging sexist norms. Arsh Dadwal, the Vice President of Abhivyakti  says, “Our peers have been really supportive, though there were people who were a little hesitant initially. Our parents, for instance, didn’t take the idea very well but then we explained (to them) how important it is to reiterate (the idea) that women can make their own choices.” This positive feedback made these students extend this campaign and they organised  an event called ‘Hair and There’ in which they discussed society’s definition of beauty and choice for women. The event was held on November 19, at Akshara Theatre from 4 pm to 7 pm.

The society has also received criticism and abuses for the work that they are doing. Malvika told Campus Watch that she has been getting calls and text messages to remove the content from her Facebook page. Their page’s inbox is flooded with messages calling the pictures ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting’. The girls have also been slammed with comments like, “Can these feminists let anything go? Not everything is about equality.” They are being thrashed for promoting body positivity – which brings to light the patriarchal mindset of the society we live in.

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One reaction on Facebook to the campaign.

When asked if the criticism has dampened their spirits in any way, Arsh replies, “We have always been up for criticism. It really helps. By listening to all these absurd arguments we have realised that there’s so much we have to work on. It’s so important to understand the fundamental flaw in this ideology of beauty standards.” This campaign attempts to question the idea of women being beautiful only if they have no hair on their body. The objective of the campaign, though very different from the original one, is to make women feel confident about the choices they make, to be more positive about their own bodies and to define beauty standards how they want to – and not conform to the ones defined by society.

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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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