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‘In The Modern Day World, People Who Need Feminism Don’t Even Know About It’

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By Rishita Deshmukh:

On a fine Sunday evening, teenagers, or what we call the ‘ youth’ of our nation, assembled over the vanity of a cup of tea to have a contested discussion about feminism. “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes,” is how Google defines feminism. But is feminism only about a discrete gender? How does the concept of feminism, one of the first instances of which occurred in France in the 14th century, differ from the knowledge of feminism in the 21st century? Is feminism only about the equality of two genders or is there more underneath it? All of these questions were reinvigorated at the café discussion that took place at Bee’s Café, Aundh on May 21, 2017.

A collective of students, who are organising a Model UN conference, came up with an initiative to bring about a change with the influence of speech. This resulted in an informal discussion about concerned topics, where everyone could voice out their opinions and solutions, which could then be worked upon.

The event started with an address by the co-founders of Omega MUN, followed by a word from the moderator of the event, who acted non-partisan in the entire event, harmonising the atmosphere. To ease up the ambience, everyone got acquainted with one another. After a few rules were explained regarding the conduct of the talk, the discussion kicked in.

While setting up the foundation of the tower named feminism, it was compared to how feminism was in the early ages. Over a period of time, the definition of feminism has expanded. In the 21st century, feminism isn’t restrictive to a particular gender. The idea of feminism has differed with time. It has become more of a movement and less of a concept about women and men having an equal stance. The basic impression is equality and hence the need to have a definition that seals both empowerment, as well as the equality of women, was looked upon.

One amongst the audience gave an example of the brand ‘Kinderjoy’, a candy selling company who have different toys for boys and girls. This brought up the fact how business industries use stereotypes in their own lucrative way.

“For a really long time, the world has been patriarchal, which has given rise to aggressive rationalism” stated a young teen, from the audience. While some people believed there was no negative side to feminism, part of them believed feminism, being an ideology, has an extreme stance which can be undesirable. Supporting this argument, it was said that the idea of feminism has become distorted and that aspects of feminism have become about hating men.

To make a non-aligned argument, the moderator pointed out that, “Feminism is not wrong as a concept, but when implemented it can be perceived in a wrong way.” To validate this point, an incident in the Indian Parliament was brought up. One of the members of Parliament was breastfeeding her child while attending to the ministers. This particular incident was interpreted differently. Some said she wanted to prove a point, that she could be a mother as well as a worker at the same time.

Contrary to this, it was said that maternity leave should be given in order to avoid such clashes. Feminism was said to be a subjective ideology which was perceived differently in diverse places. It was argued in the audience that when feminism was first initiated, it was about getting women their rightful position in society and other various rights. However, now it has become an aggressive movement where women want to manifest themselves as greater than men.

“In the modern day world, people who need feminism don’t even know about it. In rural areas, most women are unaware of their rights,” commented a 16-year old participant. A lot of times, society cringes at the visual of a ‘male’ working in the kitchen and a ‘female’ working in the office. Why do we need such social norms? Right from the grassroots level, we have such stereotypes which are influencing young psyches. These orthodox thoughts are embedded deep in our values, right from the very start. One of the boys in the room stated that 21% of schools in India are convent schools which separate girls and boys into different sets. From the very beginning, they have been estranged and this stereotype is rooted in our culture. ‘Challenging the status quo’ is what the moderator quotes. Further adding to it, a mutual point is made by everyone saying, “Law views everyone as equal, it’s society who sees it differently.”

As the discussion shifted to the norms of society, the audience talked about certain topics which are considered taboo in our society. For example, sex education, which is not highly recognised in any of the schools but is of utmost importance. Usually, it includes escorting girls into different rooms and explaining the various prospects of their body. Everyone in the room agreed to the fact that whatever happens to our body is completely natural and that one must not be reluctant to talk about it. Hence, they urged schools to prioritise sex education and openly discuss it in the assembly of both boys and girls.

As people voiced out their opinions about the same, there was a shift in the atmosphere and the argument lead to a very controversial aspect of feminism: Religion. The audience perked up and a mutual consent towards ‘Islam’ was observed. The question was asked whether women, when given a choice, would refuse to wear a hijab. Someone pointed out that women who wear the hijab had been brought up to follow the conduct no matter what. This point was countered by stating that according to the Quran, women are not supposed to go out of the house without their head covered. And even men wear a white cap over their heads all the time. Summing up one side of the argument, a speaker said, “Islam is the safest religion for women.” Countering the declaration, a boy from the crowd shared his experience of the time he used to live in Saudi Arabia. He said, “It was mandatory for my mother, who isn’t a Muslim, to wear a hijab. Women there aren’t allowed to drive a car alone. Whenever a woman wants to buy groceries, a minimum of 10 other women must be at her side.”

We’re drawn back to the era when feminism started. In Europe – France, to be precise. In those days, women weren’t considered to be tough enough to cut wood which led to them doing all the household chores while men did the physically hard labour. Hence it turned out to be, what the speaker quotes as, ‘generic nature’, for a man to earn money and a woman to spend the same currency. A typical understanding of people is that girls are soft, they like pink and boys are tough, they like blue. This entire argument leads the audience to one conclusion, “People are confused between feminism and women’s rights.” Rights are human and are meant for both men and women.

Further, everyone agreed that no matter what, there are going to be natural inequalities between men and women which will make them different from each other. “Before men and female, we are humans,” quoted one of the participants from the audience. As the discussion shifted, our question, “Is feminism only about two genders?” was attended. Men are oppressing women and but this oppression intersects with the oppression faced by LGBTQ people. Feminism preaches equality and hence it should cover all genders. Subsidiaries should be given to trans people.

Here we came to a substantive part of the conversation. What part can we play in making a change? How can we give a new perspective to people? Education – all of these values must be taught from a very young age. Awareness – let the implementation begin from our families and friends. A participant from the discussion talks about the situation of her maid who wants to marry off her daughter of 13 years. The participant says, “My maid doesn’t listen to me, neither does she take advice from my mother. What should I do?” This situation is provided with solutions like counselling, therapies, reporting to the authorities, spreading awareness.

Another major aspect is introduced in the talk: Reservation. There is a separate coach for women in the Delhi metro and yet they demand seats in the other compartment as well. A woman says, ‘I am not weak’ but still claims special treatment. While stating statistics, someone pointed out that women have 5% reservation in educational institutes. To this, another candidate says, “The reason why they have reservations is because their parents consider them as a liability. Reservation should be given to only them who require it.” However, this point is countered by another, who says, “India is a diverse country, there cannot be particular criteria for reservation. Women of upper classes live the life of rural people due to certain stereotypes and social norms. Therefore, we must attend to them who are benefiting from the laws rather than the ones misusing it”

It is believed that change has started, and gradually in the years to come, we’ll see the results. The government has taken initiatives regarding these issues. Another issue discussed was – the conversion of buses into restrooms for women to use. These buses would be parked on the roadside for the benefit of women. There are NGO’s who are working for the betterment of women. A lot of celebrities, who have their tours in west Asia and Latin America, boost the idea of feminism through their concerts.

Change is a gradual process and will not happen overnight. As we evolve, we take one step towards making a difference. Omega MUN strives to do the same through small talks, which would help make a bigger change. It isn’t just a conference, it is a step towards giving a meaning to the MUN circuit of Pune. It is a way of building credibility through discussion. With an effective team of organisers, Omega Club is set to make this world a better place. A simple e-mail about your ideas and your contribution for developing a greater society will be appreciated. Omega MUN intends to create a chain reaction, connecting thousands of people in the process. They say, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

“Our main motive behind this café discussion is to revolutionise Pune’s MUN circuit. These café discussions will help people develop their oratory skills and be confident while they speak. We seek to enrich public speaking skills,” says Sarthak Vij, co-founder of Omega MUN, a 17-year old commerce student.

“I think the main motive being Omega TeaTalks is to give people an opportunity to discuss issues of global as well as local significance. Often, there are certain things society negates as taboo, and with Omega TeaTalks, we’re hoping to give people a chance to discuss unconventional issues, and also to interact with different people with different opinions,” says Ashwath Narayana, founder of Omega MUN, another 17-year-old literature freak.

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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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