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‘Parivar Waale Aur Padhne Nahi Dete’: The Struggles Of Girls In Delhi’s Slums

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

Mere parivar waale mujhe aur padhne nahi dete” (People in my family don’t let me study.) – an angst of an 18-year old girl, who wants to continue her studies. “Mujhe to apna kuch nahi karna hai, agle saal meri shaadi karwa denge.” (I don’t want to start anything on my own, I’ll be married off next year.) — a reason for a 17-year-old girl to not attend entrepreneurship training.

I often hear these kinds of things from women, when I visit the slum areas of Delhi, where Dhriiti conducts entrepreneurship sessions. Sometimes, I try to know more about their problem and sometimes I ignore them as I am helpless to do anything for them. Yes, our society still does not support education for girls. Our society still believes that girls should not study after a certain point, as it may be a problem to find a qualified groom for her. We are still in a society where girls are forced to marry before the legal age of marriage. When I saw “Parched”, the line “padh sun ke collector banegi kaa?” (Will you become a collector by reading and listening?) reminded me of that girl who wants to continue her studies but her parents are not allowing her to study anymore. I had asked her if I could meet her parents to convince them to allow her to study. I even told her to continue her studies through long distance education, but her parents are not ready to allow her to study at any cost. When I got familiar with the Pinjra Tod campaign, I remembered my university days where we too were not allowed to go outside the hostel premises after 9:30 pm, whereas boys did not have a curfew time.

Although, the terms women empowerment and feminism have become fancy words nowadays, I still want to use these fancy words to support the struggle for women. If you ask me, “Do women really need empowerment?” My answer will be ‘yes’. This is not because we consider ourselves to be weak, but because the customs and mentality of the people of our society are still weak. People may think that only weaker section needs empowerment, but my answer is, “Women are not weak; they are powerful to deal with any kind of situation, just the society needs to recognise their power and existence.”

The concept of women empowerment is incomplete without their economic empowerment. When I went to the slum areas of West Delhi to meet women from a handmade bag making unit, I asked them the reason why they came to the centre. I got a spontaneous answer. “Mai yahaan roj aati hoon, sikhne aur mehnat karke kuch kamane taaki mujhe apne pati se paisa na mangna pade.” (I come here every day, to learn something, work hard and earn so that I don’t have to ask my husband for money.) Yes, the source of money is a matter of concern for many women in India who are completely dependent on their husband’s income. In such cases, women are the homemakers, who take care of the home, children and in-laws. But, in most of the cases, women are not recognised for their work as they are not making any money out of it.

I have one question. How will a girl get better employment and source of livelihood if she is not allowed to study? In most of these cases, parents do not allow their daughters to study, because they think they will not get qualified grooms for their daughters or they do not want to spend their money on a girl’s education as they are forced to save money for their daughters’ marriage. On the other hand, husbands do not give equality to their wives while taking decisions related to household matters. Most of the women are not even allowed to go outside without their husband’s permission. They treat their wives as insignificant pieces in their lives because their wives are not earning anything.

I am thankful to Dhriiti for giving me the chance to see these ground realities of the unprivileged ladies of our country. Now, as a part of Dhriiti, I am also trying to bring women empowerment through economic empowerment.

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About the author: Poonam Barhoi is an India Fellow of the 2016 cohort working with Dhriiti, an organisation working on promoting entrepreneurship skills amongst the urban youth from lower socio-economic backgrounds in Delhi.

Featured Image for Representation Only. Source: Flickr

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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)’.

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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.

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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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