What Would You Wear If Clothing Wasn’t Divided By Gender?

From the moment we are born, each one of us is assigned to one of the two boxes comprising the gender binary – male and female – depending, solely on what’s between our legs. These boxes are governed by certain societal norms that dictate every aspect of our lives ranging from our clothes, our toys, our choice of career, our ideologies to the very way we behave in public. Every time one attempts to break out of this binary, they are pushed right back in by incidents of violence- which may be verbal, psychological and often physical with life threatening consequences. And then there is the ideal body type- in other words, unrealistic standards- for the two boxes defined by the mainstream media. We often internalise these standards which leads us to punish ourselves and others around us when they seem unachievable.

Photo Source: The Gender Pages Project/Facebook.

Gender is a performance that changes based on the spaces we occupy and the people we are surrounded by. Very rarely do we truly perform our identity in a manner that is congruent to how we feel in a particular place at any given point of time. In the Indian context most people are without a safe environment to truly explore their identity and performances. These regulations and restrictions are the reason why we decided to work on a project that showcases a personal story of transgression, where we seek to explore our identities and corresponding performances by circumventing societal regulations and restrictions.

If we told you that you had seven days where there were no rules with regards to your gender, no rules to tell you how a person belonging to your gender should or should not behave, what would you do? What clothes would you wear? Which places would you visit? Would the way you talk, walk, and sit- change?

This is exactly what we did. It began with my desire to incorporate more masculine ensembles in my daily gender performances and the realisation of how difficult it is in reality to express my true gender in most spaces that I occupy. This formed the base of our project whose aim initially was for me to wear whatever I wished to for a week while my friend and The YP Foundation fellow, Vanika captured these looks.

As we proceeded with our shoots, the idea evolved into something bigger than what we had originally planned. We paid close attention to not just the clothing but also to the space that we were occupying in those clothes, the activities that we were indulging in and the way we were carrying ourselves. It became about breaking free from the several shackles that the patriarchal society uses to regulate not just the clothes that we dress our bodies in but also the way we behave and the various spaces that we are permitted to occupy based on our gender.

The project evolved into a series of seven photo shoots each of which is done at different public places in Delhi with me wearing attires that may not usually be associated with that particular space. This we believe adds another dimension to our project, of taking a step towards normalising and creating acceptance for “queer” gender performances. It is an attempt to put a body that makes people uncomfortable out there in order to warm up the recipients/audience to the diversity and subsequently make them comfortable with the multiple ways of existing and performing one’s gender. It is also creating a space for people to comfortably and without threats of violence, be able to express their “queerness”.

Our project dives head first into expressions and identities that truly define us regardless of what gender society thinks these performances belong to and to be able to unabashedly perform our identities all the while smashing patriarchal ideas of right and wrong.

Photo Source: The Gender Pages Project/Facebook.

In November, our photo series along with the anecdotes was displayed at an art show that took place in Bangalore during the Bangalore Pride. The first person who went through the entire exhibit had tears in her eyes. This scene repeated itself over and over again during the opening night. A beautiful thing that was happening was that people were sharing with us similar experiences from their own lives. People that we had never met before were opening up about sensitive content from their life histories. One person was clicking photos of the write ups that they wanted to share with their mother. In these moments, we felt that we were successful in building a safe space where a mutual healing process was taking place.

This week, we have been publishing these photos along with their accompanying write-ups on the Gender Pages Facebook page and Tumblr blog. Once again we had friends and strangers messaging us to share their own very personal experiences and vent about their frustration with the society and its norms. What followed were some very lovely conversations which were nothing less than cathartic.

We had seven sets of photos’ worth of badassery and did not want what we had started to terminate at the end of the week. We also wanted to move a step ahead and inspire other people to take these conversations forward by joining us in queering and reclaiming bodies and spaces. Therefore, we are running a campaign on social media where we encourage our audience to transgress and embrace their true gender performance by wearing what they would have had there been no regulation and explore the different spaces they would occupy in those clothes. We are inviting everyone to then capture these moments and send us the photos along with descriptions of their experience. The photos that we receive will be published on the blog right after the week ends and we run out of our photos to post, which is a matter of saying because we won’t really be running out of photos at all!

This project became an excuse for us and has helped us to not only perform our true identity but also to embrace it. We hope that it now leads to many different people coming out of their shells and taking small steps in the way they dress or behave, to make this world a more queer place. We hope that we bump into each other more often in public spaces as we embark on our endeavour to break the rules, stereotypes and norms that have been suffocating us for so long and discover who we truly are.

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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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