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How Ramjas College Is Fighting Sexism Through Poetry Sessions And Seminars

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Gender has become a topic of widespread discussion, especially when it comes to younger generations, who are breaking away from age-old notions of gender identity. Being accommodative of people who still show resistance towards feminism, and refuse to expand their knowledge about what the ideology entails, seems like a herculean task.

Change is slow to come and can be superficial in the present scenario sometimes, but there are many who work tirelessly for the same. Seminars, conferences, events and writings have acted as powerful tools for students to speak up for equal opportunities. With organised groups like gender forums or women’s development cells in colleges, people are getting opportunities to participate more actively for a cause that needs greater attention.

“Astitva”, the gender forum at Ramjas College, was initiated with the intention of bringing changes within the college community – but reached out even to those studying or living beyond the campus through various initiatives. After facing a dormant phase for several years, the gender forum was revived in 2016 through events like “Desire As A Guilt Free Choice For Women”, where the cast of the movie “Parched” held an interactive discussion on rape, child marriage and domestic violence – as well as the need to actively fight against such crimes.

The forum also organised a poetry session, “Queerness in Everyday Life” on September 21, 2016; a seminar on “Understanding Sexual Harassment” with Dr. Janaki Abraham in collaboration with “Parivartan”, Kirori Mal College’s gender forum on September 16.

Abhinash D.C., a second-year literature student and a member of “Astitva”, says the discussion led by Dr. Abraham on September 16 left a deep impact on him since there was a reference to assault against men, a topic that gets less attention and understanding than violence against women. Like many other gender-related issues, this too gets hushed up in the name of ‘honour’ and ‘dignity’.

With the objective of initiating deliberations on how society curbs natural instincts, individual thinking, and freedom to mould one’s personality according to one’s wishes, “Astitva” manages to bring together people from all walks of life to teach and learn from like-minded individuals.

Being one of the few colleges country-wide not to limit itself to a women’s development cell, Ramjas harbours a highly inclusive environment by also supporting the gender forum. The gender forum has played a significant role in ensuring safety for the students. An incident worthy of notice would be the harassment charges against the former Vice-Principal B. N. Ray, wherein a dozen students lodged an official complaint against him on the grounds of sexual harassment over a period of two years, in 2007. The gender forum, in this case, had worked relentlessly for the students, and ensured deliverance of a legally recognised punishment to the accused.

Unlike a typical situation of supporting the more powerful college authorities, the forum, by defending the students, underlined that an institution’s responsibility is not only to impart knowledge but to bring to practice what it preaches.

Keeping that in mind, Abhinash says, “People want to move away from male-female binaries. In this case, the importance of a gender forum is crucial, especially in the case of Ramjas College, as there has been a vehement reaction against sexual harassment.” With the likes of Dr. Nellickel A. Jacob, (who exercised his power as an adviser at the UGC Sexual Harassment Cell to emphasise on the need to acknowledge violence against men as a punishable crime) and Dr. Vinita Chandra, (who ensured a successful revival of the gender forum), students have had remarkable professors to mentor them.

Commenting on the support received by the administration, Abhinash mentions that bringing back an inactive student body was challenging, although not impossible. Tremendous support had been meted out by the faculty and administration. The need to bring back to life a student group that had previously played a crucial role within the campus was answered through the initiatives taken by a handful of professors and students.

At the same time, the topics of discussion that had previously been taken up by the gender forum were not seen as controversial by college authorities. Hence, resistance had been minimal. The real challenge, the members feel, comes with organising workshops and seminars on ‘tabooed’ issues, something that the gender forum plans on doing once they have re-built the foundation it thrives on.

The resulting impact has been proven through student response, which according to another gender forum member, Utpal Gore, has been phenomenal. Even those with limited knowledge about gender and equality have participated enthusiastically in workshops. Open to all students, “Astitva” has once again made successful attempts to reach out to everyone.

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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)’.

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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