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Why I Don’t Want To Be Called A Social Worker

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By Gaurav Shah, Founder of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM):

A ‘professional’ is someone who is part of a profession. So, what really is a ‘profession’ – and why are some areas of work defined as ‘professions’ (lawyer, doctor, etc.) and others as ‘vocations’ (cobbler, carpenter, among others)?

Technically a ‘profession’ is an area of work which fulfils some of the following requirements:

1. It requires a fairly formal, time-taking and (typically) tough process of preparation (generally academic).

2. It is bound by a code of ethics created and enforced by people within the profession.

3. Knowledge building and subsequent innovation is done by people within the profession for the profession itself – and not by people from outside the profession.

Being part of a profession becomes aspirational, because it has a certain exclusivity to it – much like the social clubs and groups we engage with. I am part of a club because I am really good at something (music, theatre, rock climbing, etc.) – and that differentiates me from the others who are not part of the club. Not many would aspire to join a club that anyone can join!

This is one of the big reasons why bright young individuals don’t want to enter the realm of teaching. Teaching is one of the most complex professions which demands a unique combination of educational perspective, understanding of curriculum and pedagogy, subject matter knowledge and a large amount of patience! Yet, the process and criteria for becoming a teacher is ridiculously low.

The same holds true if one wants to be a ‘social worker’. While the term has a technical definition, in the current context, it has become an all-encompassing term for any and everyone associated with social development or the social workspace.

Even though this profession is considered noble, people harbour a lot of pre-conceptions and assumptions about the profession. Stereotypes associated with social work can be particularly frustrating and hilarious at the same time. Here are some of the comments which people have made to me regarding the profession:

All That’s Required To Enter The Social Space Is Good Intent And A Good Heart!

That’s as good as saying that my love for cars automatically makes me a good automobile engineer! Or if I love suing people, then I am a great lawyer!

Just like engineering and law, becoming a relevant social worker should include strong academic preparation in the fields of development studies, social work, public policy, development management and others. Each of these areas requires a lot of technical hardwork, if one wants to develop the relevant knowledge and skill-sets required to deliver sustainable social impact and progress for the nation.

My Desire For A More Relaxed, Balanced Life Is Driving Me To The Social Sector!

One of the biggest challenges in the social sector is that it brings you face to face with the realities of life. A friend once told me that she couldn’t imagine working in the sector because it’s so disturbing.

It is this reality which will drive you to work harder than you ever have. This is because you can see that, at some level, your work is helping to improve the lives of the underserved and the underprivileged. Sleepless nights, crazy adventures, physical fatigue, friends unheard of in unseen places and immense satisfaction – you should expect all of this (and more) in the social space! At a personal level, the social sector has demanded more from me than the corporate space.

An NGO cleaning a village in Gujarat
It takes much more than just a simple desire to balance your life, if you want to participate in such activities. (Image by Shailesh Raval/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

Wow – You Must Be Such A Nice Human Being To Be Working In This Sector!

People everywhere have the same level of complexities, insecurities, strengths and failings.

In the corporate sector, if money is the prime motivator, you can build a fairly successful career by staying indifferent to your job. However, to stay in the social sector for a long time, a passion for social change and genuinely connecting with the people you are working with/for are necessary preconditions.

However, under no circumstance does this make one a saint. One should choose to work in this space only if they really want to work here and the work gives them happiness. Reasons like guilt (‘we have got so much, we must give back’) and social power (‘if I won’t do it, who will’) are useful but not necessarily sustainable reasons to work in this sector.

If You Are A Social Worker, Why Do You Want Money? Isn’t Satisfaction Enough?

Just like anyone else, social workers also live in a social reality. Therefore, it is to be expected that they also have to deal with individual, family and social expectations, while having their own desires – and why shouldn’t they!

The choice of working on the toughest problems facing large sections of society is challenging enough. On top of that, why should a huge financial sacrifice be part of the initiation as well?

The complexity of issues that this sector faces is mindboggling. It really needs the brightest minds to come and work here. Therefore, we need to find ways of attracting the right talent, rather than trying hard to keep them away.

Many people have made a conscious choice of working in this sector for their personal reasons. This in turn reflects what they want to do and where they want to work. Hence, the choices of these people may not necessarily subscribe to the stereotypical notions mentioned above.

Just like we call people ‘banking sector professionals’ and ‘legal professionals’, can’t we just be called ‘development sector professionals’? It just has a much more pleasing and ‘professional’ ring to it!

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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.

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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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