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A Writer’s Desire For ‘Ze’

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Recently, as a part of my sporadic writing exercise, I was writing about parents and their relationship with their children. While doing this I tried to guard my writing against any form of patriarchy, by avoiding first, the use of ‘Parents’ by using ‘Parent(s)’ instead and secondly, by using the pronoun s/he and his/her together instead of he and his. This was done with the motive of being gender neutral by avoiding assumptions with regard to first, that the child would necessarily be brought up by two parents and that, s/he will always assume a male identity.

But while doing this there was one problem that I faced. It was my suspicions with regards to the grammatical correctness of my work. This was because of too many s/he and his/her finding space together many times in just one paragraph. This further made me apprehensive about the fact if it will confuse or act as an impediment in the reading of my reader. At that point, I hoped if there could have been a gender-neutral term that could have without discrimination addressed all the genders.

It is at that point that it struck me that how I myself, by compartmentalising ‘he and she’, was being sexist. By trying to provide representation and recognition to the other predominant gender other than the male, whose contributions and presence, whether socially or economically (GDP) goes unaccounted, I was, without a single thought, being disregardful towards the various other gender identities, i.e. – LGBTQI, by not providing any space for interpretation for the latter. It struck me how we in our society are not accustomed to including these other categorised people in our daily lives, by being blind-eyed to their existence, let alone to see them in the shoes of parents or children.

While my mind was going through all this questioning, I happened to share my thoughts on the same with one of my professors in college over breakfast. I started by addressing to him how exhilarated I was by the use of the term ‘Gentleperson’ by Prof. Upendra Baxi, instead of ‘Ladies and Gentleman’, when the other day he visited our college for panel discussion on the topic- ‘Pluralism and Human Rights: Dilemmas and Difficulties’. At that point I told him how I felt about the patriarchy in the usage of our everyday pronouns, to which he responded by telling me about the latest step that has been taken by the Oxford University in the league towards gender neutrality, by banning the use of the words ‘he’ and ‘she’, replacing it with ‘ze’ instead, as it was found to be hurting the sentiments of the people belonging to the genders other than the predominant the male and the female.

The University has now regarded the intentional misgendering of a transgender as an offence under its new code of conduct. But, it is important to clarify here that, the use of ‘ze’ shall not be a mandate over the use of ‘he’ or ‘she’ provided that the gender of the concerned person is known. The usage is supposed, and not restricted, to reference where the person chooses to be not categorised under the singular headings of male and female. Further, it is recommended to be used where the gender of the crowd is unknown and for the purpose of inclusivity any presumptions, with regards to the gender, are avoided. This move is also set to be imposed on the Cambridge University.

Though the word ‘Ze’ has not yet found place in the Oxford dictionary, the step taken by the University has in itself sent a strong message across the world towards the recognition of all the individuals by respecting their gender identities, which form an essential part of their personalities and existence.

The reference to this instance cannot be complete without reference to our Indianised version of such advancement. It is in 2015 when the NALSAR University became the first educational institution ever, to award a law degree to one of its students – Anindita Mukherjee, by using ‘Mx’, a gender-neutral honorific. This happened when Mukherjee requested the authorities to not identify zer with any of the genderised honorifics of male or female, i.e. – Mr. /Ms. In zer own words ze said– “I felt that there was no reason why my transcript needed to mention my gender. Besides, law universities are the spaces where we are constantly discussing justice, rights and identity, so I wanted to see if the university would walk the talk on that point. Mx being a gender-neutral honorific that has been gaining traction, I asked if my transcript could refer to me as ‘Mx Anindita Mukherjee’ instead of ‘Ms Anindita Mukherjee’.”

Another such similar step, not so much on the lines of language, was taken in St Catherine’s College (source- ) of the Oxford University, when it had introduced gender neutral lavatories, i.e. – the toilets that could be used by anyone regardless of their gender. The doors of these washrooms carried the symbol that was a combination of the scientific symbols for the male and the female sex. This move was undertaken with the primary aim to provide washroom services to the genders other than the predominant ones, so that they could address nature’s call without feeling humiliation by being unable to access the male and the female washrooms.

It is an accepted principle that the language and the symbols that a society uses to refer to a certain section of its people are reflective of their relative position in that context. With such developments happening around us it would not be surreal for one to hope for gender equality in one’s lifetime.


Image source: Solomon Fletcher/Tumblr

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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