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Lessons I Learnt From My Time As A Student Union Member

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Two years ago, I remember sitting alone in my living room, happy and excited, but mostly anxious. The college election results had just been declared, and I was elected as the chief student editor of the college magazine. I was to spearhead the magazine committee for one academic year.

Contesting for elections had been a difficult decision for the introvert that I was. Writing had been more of a personal interest and a solace for me rather than a serious pursuit. Though I had a rough idea of the terrain ahead, I knew careful mapping would be necessary.

The magazine named “Thudal” (leash), had freedom as its central theme and explored various realms of gender equity, body politics, religious beliefs, caste discrimination, campus issues, etc.

Our first activity was a wall magazine named “Sarga” on the gruesome Paris terror attacks. We received numerous entries voicing protest, concern, hope, anger and fear. Amidst mosquitoes, hunger pangs and a clock ticking fast past midnight, our team of about 10 spent an entire night sorting out and editing the submissions. Numerous thermocol cutouts were made, including that of a four foot tall Eiffel tower. The entries were rewritten on half-burnt cardboard sheets and pasted on the board.

By the time we completed the wall magazine, a board we decorate and write on once in every two to three months, there was a half-finished case record and an almost untouched textbook by my side. I had an exam the very next day, which the clock told me was less than three hours away. Someone got me a cup of coffee while I scribbled in my record book and tried to flip through some notes, all at once.

I remember scurrying to the exam hall, unbathed, tired and hungry, but with a strong sense of accomplishment and newfound confidence. Who knew that would mark the beginning of a journey with many nights of juggling studies, campus politics, social life and what not.

Being an ill-focussed worrywart and a habitual procrastinator, I often found myself struggling to multi-task. The college blog was one such instance when I had a tech-savvy friend burn the midnight oil trying to create an online blog. It was intended to serve as a platform to publish the students’ work. The unrealistic perfectionist in me serially found faults with his works, many times getting into arguments with him. Though it took a few months for the blog to be launched, the fantastic response we got, was indeed worth the effort.

A number of events and activities followed, each of them being preceded by weeks or months of discussions, planning, getting on each others’ nerves, and of course, the unavoidable last minute hustle and bustle.

Often, seemingly absurd ideas discussed over coffee and cutlets in our canteen unfurled into pathbreaking events when everyone chipped in. “Haiku” was one such event. The challenge put forth by my friend Karthika to walk through the college garden with a pack of sanitary napkins later initiated a massive discussion on menstruation. It eventually led to the launch of a micro tale competition on the topic – ‘Happy To Bleed’.

Entries flowed in from different parts of India, west-Asian countries, and even Europe. What we thought would be a small event in college later became a successful campaign which got covered by The Guardian, Al Jazeera, NDTV, Times Of India, The Hindu and many other acclaimed news portals. Even today, the team is very much active, conducting awareness sessions for students in different colleges and schools across India.

Though “Haiku”, “Xray” (the college newspaper) and “Ezhuthukootam” (writing workshop) helped me widen my perspectives and gave me training in teamwork, it was the college magazine that had me pushing beyond limits. We wanted a comprehensive take on different issues which demanded the participation of all team members.

We interviewed people from different walks of life, went around coaxing students and staff to write and contribute ideas, searched for suitable pictures, and went through old magazines looking for inspiration. The work often got delayed due to technical issues, throwing all of us into a frenzy. A lot of the work was done during my night postings in the labour room. The 12-hour duty at night and hectic magazine work at day made sleep a precious commodity.

But help flowed in from unexpected sources in the form of duty exchanges, lecture notes, kind words, and new ideas. I found myself enjoying the busy schedule in spite of occasional burnouts. I remember one particular occasion when the tight schedule had started strangling me, and a dear friend sat with me for hours, just holding my hand and talking until I felt better. The magazine received excellent reviews. The happiest moment was when our magazine was selected the runner-up for the prestigious Basheer Award.

When the tenure of our union ended and I was asked to address the students on the college day, all I could utter was a big thank you. One year of being a student representative had taught me how much teamwork, passion and confidence could achieve, how small ideas and a handful of people could create huge changes, and how words could work wonders. Years down the lane, wrinkled and worn out, these lessons will be treasures I hold on to.

 

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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 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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