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Stalking, Harassment, Threats: A Day In The Life Of A Woman Journalist

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On the very first day at journalism schools and colleges, we are introduced to the magical art of communication. We are taught various theories: how to convince, how to persuade, how to make people comfortable enough to share their stories with us. Three years of graduation in mass communication and two years of masters in journalism has taught me a lot about communication.

Communication inside classrooms and on the ground is poles apart. Getting through people is always a tough task. You research your subject, look for people and then approach them to know their story up-close. In every story, there are multiple angles involved and hence different people too. To get to the root of the issue and do justice to your work, it is every journalist’s responsibility to cover all the aspects of a given story. Sounds simple? Hold up there.

Journalism is a life of rejections, where people will cut your calls, never reply to your emails, shut their doors in your face and very often ask you to get lost. But despite this daily dosage of rejection you have to be persistent and try to help these very people who ignore you. Yes, you have to bang your head on the brick wall, till you finally make a hole in it!

One of my professors at college had told me, that the best way of ice breaking is to chat with people about their life, bring up day-to-day issues. Just showing up with a camera and mic will never get you across to anyone. I followed this advice – must say it works. To lighten people up, you have to stop being the person with power (camera) and be one of them. You have to smoke with them, drink tea with them, chat and smile. This can promise you not only a good interview or story but a stronger bond with the people you meet. But sometimes these bonds can take unwanted shades if you are a female.

Talking to people has never been an issue with me. I can sit with people irrespective of their religion, caste, occupation and chat with them over tea. That should at least make my job slightly easier, but no. My experiences of fruitful conversations and interviews have been followed up by unwanted messages from the people I meet. From commenting on my pictures and friend requests on Facebook, to unwanted advances, journalism for girls is a different ballgame altogether.

You talk and make your subjects comfortable, but at the same time, you have to keep a check on any questionable behaviour around you. It happens quickly – like someone lightly brushing their arms against you or a different kind of smile passed at you. You don’t even realize it till you get back home to messages that shock and scare you.

There are incidents when women reporters have been stalked, threatened and sexually harassed. Such behaviour doesn’t come from ‘uneducated’ people on the street, but more often from people who dress smart, come from the best colleges, and work at reputed companies. Their urgency to get your phone number, to meet you and know your relationship status is the first big warning.

The media industry requires you to talk, go places, meet new people and do ‘networking’. But what do you do when your network keeps leading you to people who can’t discern the difference between a professional interaction and a Tinder chat?

It happens very often while working on the field. When you are busy reporting, asking questions, there are always a few people lurking, saying things to catch your attention, whistling or at times singing songs and giggling. But we are so used to it that we always ignore such things. There are times when we respond with anger. But mostly burdened by deadlines, we focus on getting the work done. I remember going for my first outdoor story from college. We were an excited group of girls who moved around with confidence, carrying our equipment and prepared for the first assignment. We were doing a story on e-rickshaw pullers and how their growth was impacting people who still had the old rickshaws. As we moved around near Kashmere Gate, looking for old rickshaws, a group of boys passed us making weird faces and gestures at us. We all decided to ignore it and moved ahead, but then a speeding white van stopped in front of us and a drunken looking guy asked us to get inside. Scared we all started running till the van was out of sight. The place barely had any people, so wasting time to call for help wouldn’t have helped us. This incident was enough to encourage me to finally buy a pepper spray for my safety. Little did I know that this wouldn’t be a solitary incident. Tired and exhausted, we forgot about it until next time.

The next time came when we were shooting a historical monument, located inside a public park. The park seemed like a safe place with gardeners and caretakers around. We continued to shoot without any trouble till my friend said to me that she had been noticing a boy following us since morning. I looked at the guy who was looking down at us from the top of the monument and saw him recording us on his phone. Enraged I shouted at the boy and asked him to come down. Before we knew it, the boy was down and running. We all started running behind him with all the equipment still in our hands. The boy knew a shortcut and managed to escape. This time we were really frustrated and, more than our college project, were concerned about our safety as journalists.

Such incidents might seem harmless to people, but they are just the beginning of what awaits most women journalists in this profession. Reporting on corruption, crime and politics often involve threats from the parties involved, for both male and female journalists. But for a female journalist, they are mostly sexual threats.

For women journalists, every important assignment comes with the possibility of harassment. There are several incidents of women journalists in India being abused on social media and getting rape threats from people.

Deconstructing and reconstructing the mindset of society will take time; the only option right now is to ensure our safety ourselves. Safety of women journalists is an issue that should be talked about and considered with seriousness. With fear in mind, no woman journalist can achieve her full potential.

A version of this article was previously published here.

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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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