This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Manmeet Kaur. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How This Programme Made Me Understand The World Of Public Policy

As a feminist and the coordinator of the Women’s Development Cell (WDC) of Lady Shri Ram College, questioning gender norms and writing long-form rants about unequal rules and regressive laws has almost become a part of my routine. Despite multiple and erratic Facebook comment wars and after umpteen discouraging conversations, I have managed to keep despair at bay by arming myself with peace and positivity derived from my involvement with the WDC and One Billion Rising. But time and again, there was a sense of distance and inadequacy which took over whenever I ‘unfriended’ any old Facebook friend over their blatant sexism, or when I criticised the Surrogacy Bill without ever having met a surrogate mother. In times like these, I knew I had to delve deeper into my own arguments, understanding all aspects of a problem, and coming up with its solutions. Only by overcoming these personal barriers could I hope to do full justice to the larger movements I have mentioned above. That’s when Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC) came to my rescue.

YLAC is an enterprise committed to enabling curious young minds to become harbingers of change through a comprehensive outlook towards law, governance, society, and the ground realities of our country. Joining their ‘Policy in Action Program’, I was able to juggle with an unmatched variety of subjects and was able to look at social issues under an entirely new light. The sheer diversity of the classroom was absolutely astounding with no two people having an identical academic and professional story to tell. The conversations over tea could range from the yoga experiences of a lawyer in the making to the mystique of Satan in “Paradise Lost”.

Is there more to the parliament than just subsidised samosas? Are all MPs school dropouts with nothing better to do than trying to run the country? Can I, as a student who has strong opinions backed by solution oriented resolutions do anything to change how my country functions? With positivist answers to these questions and more, I gradually uncovered what YLAC really was: a revolutionary engagement and learning platform allowing students and young professionals to step out of their shells and discover the pragmatics of their opinions and professional partaking.

Right from brushing up my knowledge of secondary school political science to enabling me to meticulously craft a real policy brief, their programme served as a brilliant introduction to the world of public policy in general and Indian legal and political methodology in particular. Through minutely planned and strikingly executed sessions, the YLAC team ensured that each candidate derived maximum benefit even within the limited time frame.

As a student of English literature, a gender activist and most of all, an opinionated young individual, I had been looking to engage with the practicalities of Indian policy for quite some time. Though my motive behind applying for this programme was limited to understanding the political and legal systems, our team’s project on the Surrogacy Bill greatly corroborated my understanding of the healthcare industry and the Indian social fabric as well. I was delighted to see how seamlessly it fitted into my work on gender. It made me realise how much a basic comprehension of the legal, political, and social proceedings through public policy could help the youth to channelise its thoughts and opinions and create real change in how things work. The fact that each team part of the programme was working directly under MP offices was a delectable icing on the cake, allowing us direct access to the workings of the system.

Project presentation with Mr Kalikesh Singh Deo (MP, Lok Sabha)

Working in a team had never been something I was comfortable with but this collaboration has changed that forever. With two engineering professionals, a political science student, and I constituting the team, the heterogeneity of the squad added to instead of taking away from the efficiency from our work. In fact, it was heartwarming to see the men in the team comprehending with analytic fervour the gendered nuances inherently present in the topic. Such an interaction ensured that we learnt as much from each other as we did from the project assigned. Over countless cups of chai and incessant riots of laughter, our team managed to come up with a near perfect policy brief.

While all projects rolled on at their steady pace, the weekend teaching sessions always brought in a new angle to whatever we were doing. With workshops on everything from the structures of Indian governance to engaging a varied audience through compelling writing, the sessions were full of ideas and information waiting to be explored. On the final day of the programme, a guest address by Mr Gaurav Gogoi (MP, Lok Sabha) was organised which greatly changed everybody’s perception of the internal happenings in the parliament and acquainted us with the amount of research and intelligence that our elected representatives actually invest in.

Under the aegis of committed and distinguished facilitators straight out of Harvard and Oxford putting their distinctive education to good use, a month spent with the YLAC team while grappling with the intricacies of the Indian legal and political setup was indeed an unprecedented leap into new horizons.

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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.

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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.

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.”

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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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