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Does The Health And Wellbeing Of Trans Youth Matter To India?

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I was 17 and I was depressed. The contradiction between my body and my real gender identity was tormenting me. I wanted help, I wanted counseling, I wanted advice, I wanted guidance, I wanted hope, I wanted a life. I had nowhere to go, no one to talk.

That was me two decades ago, as a gender non-conforming youth, confused, afraid and completely suicidal. The situation hasn’t changed much for today’s teenagers who are gender non-conforming. They need to talk and they are afraid, because the support system for them is missing in our country.

I am one of those estimated 25 million people, or one in a global population of 0.5%, who are transgender. India has one of the largest population of transgender people in the world, with an estimated population of 4.88 lakhs. That is 3/4th of the population of the state of Sikkim.

Trans activist Kalki Subramaniam.

Unlike me in my teenage years, today’s educated trans teens have the technology and ability to access information in their hands instantly. Yet, can they access health services? It is a big question, and the answer is a big “No”.

On April 14, 2015 the Supreme court of India legally recognized the transgender community, and directed both Centre and State government to do the needful to uplift the community which is one of the most marginalised, misunderstood and underprivileged in the country.

But, apart from a few states, many still continue to ignore the well being of transgender people. The Centre, through its Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, seems to still work on ways to reaching out to the community. However, there is too little done when it comes to physical and mental health services for transgender people.

In India, Gender Dysphoria Clinics are still a distant dream. Do our health care professionals have enough knowledge to offer supportive health care services for transgender people? Only a few. In a study published recently in The Lancet Psychiatry in Mexico, researchers found that being transgender is not a mental illness. But in India, little medical research has been conducted on the issues of transgender people.

For representation only.

Trans youth in India are vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence. The stigma and discrimination against them right in their own homes drives them to the streets. Being rejected by your own father, mother, or siblings is terrible, and it leads to depression and suicidal tendencies. Where do these young people go for survival? To other transgender people  who are like them. What do they do for a living? Begging and sex work.

Presently our government does not have a support system to embrace trans youth and provide them the psychological and medical support they desperately need. God knows how many years it is going to take us activists to sensitize them and make them implement healthcare measures.

In a book by A. Revathi named ‘A Life in Trans Activism’, transgender actor and writer Gee Iman Semmalar shares his terrible experience with a doctor.

“For accessing hormone treatment, they require your mental health to be ‘assessed’ and for two psychiatrists to certify you as having gender identity dysphoria (a lot of psychiatrists still write ‘gender identity disorder’). Depending on your psychiatrist, this could take any amount of time, in some cases, even years. We are left at the mercy of doctors who know very little about us.

In most cases, they try to convince us that we should continue to live in the same bodies, they warn us about the consequences of ‘sex change’. Among trans friends, I have heard of instances of electro shock therapies, house arrests, being chained to their bed posts, trans men being forcefully administered female hormones and marriage being prescribed as a ‘cure’. With no way to opt out of this oppressive medical system, I let them certify me as having a disorder. In fact, I pleaded with them to certify me, in order to become who I am today.

During my teen years, I (and other transgender youths like me) desperately wanted help, support and counselling. No one was there to help and guide us. We used to take estrogen pills and injections without prescriptions from a doctor, and we used to change it often until we had satisfactory results. Word of mouth recommendations for growing breasts and feminisation made us try several different types of pills. We were risking our health.

Though today transgender people can access information easily, many uneducated trans youth in India continue to risk their health due lack of  proper medical support.

Sex-reassignment surgeries are expensive in India, there are very few doctors who do it with the best results, so many transgender women opt for penectomy the not-so-expensive surgery process of removing the genitals. How about post surgery care? Do trans women take post surgery hormone therapy? No one knows about it.

In India, HIV prevalence is among the general public is 0.31%, but HIV prevalence among the transgender community is 8.2%.  Almost 9 people in 100 are vulnerable to HIV. Fortunately many NGOs have given sexual health education for the community. That is about it, no other services or support they could give. We need gender dysphioria clinics and counseling centres. We need understanding trans friends, doctors ,and medical professionals.

Members of the trans community protesting in Mumbai (2005). Source: REUTERS/Stringer AD/JJ – RTRKQGM

It is both our Centre and state governments that have a huge role to play in this. It has been three years since the judgement from the Supreme Court of India legalized transgender identities, directing the Centre and the state governments to take proactive measures for the welfare of the transgender communities. But the governments are doing it at a snail’s pace. I hope, wish, and pray they they act fast to reach out to the desperate transgender community.

India needs its trans youth. We hold lots of creative power and can contribute to the growth of our country, and that cannot be wasted.



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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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