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Why I Think It’s Important To Remember the Struggle Of Mothers In A Patriarchal Society

Dear Daughter/ Son,

I knew this day would come, when one evening, you would rush up to me and ask me what the word ‘feminism’ means to me. I have to confess there is a part of me that was waiting for this day, hoping I was someone you found approachable to ask questions that intrigued you. I wish I could tell you my story that day. The story of how I learnt about feminism, identified with it and made it my own.

Feminism, as the Oxford dictionary defines it, is the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. I know you will be raising your eyebrows to this and making a face that suggests that you already knew the definition. Maybe you should have asked your father instead and that I am wasting your time with definitions without getting to the point (like I always do). But there is a reason for doing that, because definitions and boring beginnings just like Bollywood movies may sometimes lead to an unexpectedly great story.

As I write this to you, I can clearly remember the day and time that gave me a reason to identify myself as a feminist, and not just use it as a definition to associate with. “Life is messy and so is feminism,” was something my professor in college always said and something that has remained with me only to reiterate itself time and again. So, while the world around you would have already given you numerous notions/definitions about feminism, let me scatter them all and say that there is really no single way to define feminism.

The ultimate truth is that there is no truth. This is what experience in all its intensity and completeness taught me. It helped me realise that all feminists are not the same. They might be a community but in their ideologies and actions, they can be radically different and unique. So, I am putting down some points that helped me understand my feminism and I hope it helps you too.

You aren’t born a feminist.

Having been a feminist for 15 years of my life, I find myself guilty and little short of words while writing this. Born and brought up in a joint family, I often took pride in being everyone’s favourite and having so many people who cared for me. When, as a teenager, people would ask me if women were treated differently in my home, I got rid of the topic by simply saying ‘never’. It was not until I was in my 20s that I realised how wrong I was.

I remember chuckling as a child when my mother scolded me. She would get scolded instead because I was the precious child of the house and my mother, the child of another house. I remember one of the days when my mother had gone to work and I threw this huge tantrum, she was asked to rush back and quit her job. My petty tears were given more priority than my mother’s hard work. Looking back, I know on that day and many other days I lay on the couch watching TV like a slob while she brought us food and took care of our needs. I was one amongst the patriarchs, the oppressors and I am guilty of it. While my grandmother and I still have arguments on feminism, I realise that she is more feminist than I could ever be. Her struggles to earn in a family where women didn’t, her strength to live with people who had different ideologies than her own and her perseverance to keep going has been something that has kept me going.

Feminism is not your job, it is the way you do your job.

While at this moment when you learn about the struggles of women all around the world and read the works of feminist writers all you want to do is jump up and be a feminist. Stop and think. There are ways in which you can channelise your ideologies to bring about a change. That can be more long lasting and impactful, than shallow words. Be a Paromita Vohra who makes movies that sensitise you to feminism, a Baby Halder whose books shake you to your very core or an Urvashi Butalia, whose grace and patience inspires me. Use your feminism to inspire your art/job and your job to curate your feminism. It will help you and your ideology to grow.

I can now sit in the same room with people with radically different opinions making comments, completely contrary to my opinions; yet keep my calm. That is because I know my struggle is larger than that. Empower others with your ideologies, don’t ostracise them; the former will help you grow and the latter will only make them repel it. Sometimes being the only girl who welds in an automobile engineering class makes a bigger statement than an angry female startup co-founder who keeps blowing the trumpet about her rights. Trust me when I say I have been both.

The world might not understand you. Just make sure you understand yourself.

There was a time when I walked around the corridors of my college alone and sat on long mess tables alone because of the beliefs I held close to my heart and that others didn’t understand. It was a rough time but many years later I can tell you that it helped me grow many folds.

Your ideologies are your own, you have a right to possess them but not to impose them. The multiplicity of people and opinions exist in this world to question our beliefs, shake them and to reconstruct them again. So, it’s okay if your friends or teachers or acquaintances don’t agree with you all the time. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It means that between your thoughts and theirs, lies a grey area of ambiguity and acceptance.

When the people of the world don’t get you, find you weird, wild and defeat you, don’t get disheartened. Just tell them they haven’t met your mother. So keep fighting for your beliefs little one, make your opinions count, listen to others, yet believe in your individuality.

There is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away. No matter how many land mines erupt in a minute be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life, says Sarah Kay.

With immense love,

Amma
_

Image Source: DFID – UK Department for International Development/ 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.

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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.

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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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