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Women’s Safety In India Has A Long Way To Go

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A girl boards an overloaded train from New Delhi station. Some milkmen carrying big milk cans also board the same train. The girl doesn’t find any seat to sit on while the milkmen adjust themselves by sitting on their cans and also offer one to the girl. One of the milkmen, a young smart guy makes the girl sit close to him. He begins to impress her by playing music on his mobile and also sings some lines for her. The girl blushes but has no choice as there is no space to move. The young milkman makes advances and harasses the girl. He simply strips her with his dirty words.

There are a huge number of people, boys and girls, men and women, sisters and brothers, young and old, witnessing this open harassment but no one utters a word against this evil. After almost three hours, a young man interferes and exchanges his seat for a can with the girl and shields her from the milkman.

A doctor at AIIMS gets two little kids to throw acid at a fellow female doctor (also his friend) for rejecting his proposals from time to time. A fourth year female physiotherapy student is openly burnt at School of Medical Education (SME) by another physiotherapy student for rejecting his proposal. Pinki Devi is stabbed to death at a crowded Gurgaon Metro station by an auto driver for rejecting his proposal. These incidents take place in my country, the incredible India, where women like Sita and Kali (both goddesses) are worshipped.

We do love females as our mothers, as our sisters, as our daughters, as our girlfriends and as our wives, then why do we harass other women by passing lewd comments that almost strip her? Why do we tease her? Why do we throw acid at her if she rejects our proposal? Why do we burn her in the open if she rejects our proposal? Why do we force her to feel the same as we feel for her? She too is human; she has her own feelings and priorities. She too has a dream guy whom she will embrace. Why don’t we understand this? Why can’t we let go of our ego? Why don’t we learn to accept rejection?

It is a shame that rapes take place everyday. Rape is a disease which attacks from everywhere to everywhere. It is an evil that has no boundaries. It is present in every nook and corner of the world. It doesn’t differentiate between a 3-year-old kid and an 80-year-old lady. From parties to workplaces to our homes, rape and harassment have become a norm. The survivors of these heinous crimes are then left to be humiliated throughout their life. Some of them even spend their whole “after rape life” on ventilators.

Our society is made fun of when people like Asaram execute rape in the name of God. They bring shame to the community and the country. Their effects of their actions not limited to the survivors but affect the psyche of the whole society especially the female folk. Their actions terrorise the females and make them feel unsafe. Their actions as such are no less than that of a terrorist.

Then there are our irresponsible politicians adding fuel to this by giving immature statements that are unacceptable and uncalled for. Their statements are aimed to inspire rapists. The recent statement of Karnataka Home Minister must have encouraged rapists. There are some people who pass the buck on to the women folk for these rapes. They blame their dressing sense and are of the opinion that women should be put behind the veil, never to see the light of day.

written on card board "Say no to women and children abuse"
Image source: Flickr/governmentZA

India won’t be a great country till every girl child, in every corner feels safe and can walk fearlessly, even at night. We chant a thousand slogans and take pledges to protect the dignity of our women but that never works. Our actions need to speak louder than the words. There have been instances when people risked their lives to protect the dignity of women. The most recent one being a vendor from Haryana who was shot by a goon.

We need to set examples to frustrate the will of rapists. A mechanism needs to be carved till this “rape norm” is depleted. Serious attention is needed to reach a point where there are no rapes. Something extraordinary is necessary to stop men from even thinking of this crime. We are too tolerant towards this evil. We must not wait for some supernatural power to come and eliminate this disease. It is we, the people, who will have to stop thinking that it doesn’t matter till the wave reaches us.

A stringent law is required to cure this disease. Imprisonment, hangings never serve their part. It doesn’t frustrate the will of rapists.  A law which punishes a rapist, such that he remains a live example for the whole society, is the need of the hour. There is also a dire need to introduce “all women” police stations throughout the country. Most of the survivors don’t report it because they don’t feel comfortable with male police. Recently, a gang rape survivor was asked by police, “Who gave you the most pleasure?” If our law enforcing agencies work in this way, then of course no rape survivor will come out in the open.

India is a great country with a great growth rate and is an emerging power. If our life, dignity and honour is at stake, then everything else, including the economy is secondary. Development that doesn’t take care of human dignity, respect and security is but pseudo-development. We have tremendous human capital in the face of females. They can contribute to the development of our country only if they feel safe at their workplace. We need to restore the dignity of the woman in our society and give her the highest status in our society, for Elysium lies beneath her feet. All the men and women with goodwill need to come forward to restore “her” status.

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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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