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3 Women Open Up About The Sexism And Stereotypes They Have To Bash As Journalists In UP

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“It’s like jumping into the fire.” – from Zile ki Hulchul, a grassroots survey conducted by Women Media and News Trust, 2014

That is one of the best similes we’ve come across in our 15 years of work to capture what we do everyday, and who we are – the experience of being women journalists in India’s hinterland.

The fire does not rage inside our bellies only – it’s also raging around and outside us, threatening to engulf us with its prejudices, expectations, norms and stereotypes.

“Male reporters often wondered why I was in this ‘dirty’ profession,” says Riya Singh, laughing, when we meet her on a busy street. We laugh with her, and share our reason for the interview on a shared auto ride through the lanes of Banda, where she works. We inform her that we have set out to scout spirited women like her and us, to celebrate Khabar Lahariya completing 15 years.

We roll our eyes at all the advice we have received (and continue to) from our ‘well-meaning’ peers, while jostling through crowds to sniff out the stories – and, in the process, stand head and shoulders above the ‘dicks’ in the profession. “They advised me to join a beauty parlour, a grocery store, or a sari ki dukaan,” says Riya.

As part of this special commemorative series profiling women journalists in Bundelkhand, we met with news anchors and reporters across different media outlets, both in TV and print. Apart from Riya Singh, who works for a paper called Nav Karm Yug, we also met Saumya Srivastava, an anchor with K News (in Banda), and Aakanksha Shukla, who works for City Star News. They are all fighters – and like most self-driven women who’ve had to make noise to get noticed – their performances speak for themselves.

Given the dismal literacy rates in the country (65.46% for females and 82.14% for males), the existence of such women in a state like Uttar Pradesh (UP) is cause enough for celebration. In a world where women are only encouraged to take care of homes, Riya’s hatke hunger stands out: “Girls usually don’t aspire to be journalists – either because they aren’t allowed to, or because they’re scared.”

Being on the field is an imperative for a journalist, but the ‘exposure’ can only be detrimental to a woman – such are the pre-conceived notions women battle with every day. After all, who wants their girls to be ‘exposed’? Mindsets like these are reasons why girls continue to drop out of schools for several years. This is also why they continue to opt for ‘safe’ career choices such as nursing or teaching. After all, in a state that has always been notorious for its crimes against women (rapes, domestic violence, harassment), safety becomes all-important.

Aakanksha Shukla, who has her own show and is a prominent face on television, has battled sexist attitudes, jibes, slander and trolls on social media, and even fake lawsuits. She has also been harassed by her co-workers and by male reporters. These attitudes are embedded within the fabric of society – “When a female journalist reports for duty, she’s first asked for a personal introduction. She’s asked about her family, then her clothes are commented upon. All of this is downright disrespectful.”

It’s the same old problem of boundaries – and, as 23-year-old Saumya Srivastava puts it, “Bundelkhand is a place that still wishes to confine its women to their houses.”

Riya, Aakanksha and Saumya have come forth from within these social restrictions. Therefore, it is no wonder that they seem to have channel a bit of the ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’ swag. And why not – given their efforts to make some space in their profession and force their peers to take them seriously!

Aakanksha breaks down while sharing details about the lawsuits that were filed against her. She rants against patriarchy, adopting a ‘holier-than-thou’ stance: “I chose journalism in order to battle injustice. Even if people try and suppress certain news items, I make sure the truth comes to light.” And then, she is quick to quip, in a radio-jingle style: “Koi baat nahi, haar ke baad hi jeet hoti hai! (Victory comes only after loss!)”

Saumya’s self-assuredness also comes from years of rehearsing, both on and off the camera: “I come from Banda, where people still believe that girls shouldn’t do jobs that require any sort of exposure. They believe that girls should take up professions like teaching. Journalism is still frowned upon. People don’t want their girls to be well-known or recognised.” She insists that her own family is her support system. She further adds, “I take pride in the fact that I am a well-known face in Banda!”

The journey is a tough one – we tread off the beaten path every single day. Even when we do ‘make it’, we know that the discrimination does not end there. Statistical data on the gender-gaps in salaries earned illustrates this point. For instance, according to the Monster Salary Index, women in India earn 25% less than what men earn. According to the Index, while a man earns ₹345.80 per hour, a woman earns only ₹259.88 per hour for the same work.

So, even if women do beat the odds and actually complete their schooling, they are met with discrimination at each step – making their path to employment a minefield. And if, by some miracle, they do manage to get employed, they are harassed and discriminated against, leading many to quit.

Striving against it all is an arduous choice. When Riya spoke of her initial fears and reservations, we couldn’t stop ourselves from remembering our own early experiences. The specificity of it all was a déjà vu for us, in both good and bad ways. As she says, “I still remember how on my first day, I was told to interview some officials at the Vikas Bhavan. I spent all day simply walking around and peering into the offices. I simply did not have the courage to actually enter any of the offices!”

And when she confidently adds, “Today, I can speak to anyone – from the DM to the SP to the Collector. You have no choice but to overcome the challenges,” we can’t help but count our own dreams and visions, that have haunted as well as egged us on, all through these 15 years!


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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.”

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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, 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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