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Watch Out, Father Figures. You Can’t Shackle Us Anymore

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In which age-old shackles rattle again. But be careful, because we’re going to make sure they shatter upon tightening.

Sab teacher hi kyon banna chahte hain? (Why do they all want to be teachers?)”

The mild irritation in Nazni’s voice is palpable. It hits home in the Bundeli field, and in the Delhi newsroom.

Nazni reports from Chitrakoot in Bundelkhand, and is more than well-versed in how patriarchy plays out in all its insidious, aggressive avatars. She is doing a ‘youth story’ on the ambitions and desires of young girls who’ve wrapped up their exams and are at the cusp of so many thresholds in their life-journeys. And she is demanding answers of these 19-year-olds on why is it that they all continue to make safe career choices (literally safe, that is – meaning you will not be exposed to untoward elements on a daily basis in your professional life, apparently, and thus have reduced your chances of being a victim of sexual violence). But Nazni is merely indulging in rhetoric here, she knows this like all of us.

For young girls in India, these thresholds are more like the hideous mouths of dark abysses. Anything you can do to make the freefall into evil easier, better, safer, you will do.

Akanksha Gupta, a second year Visual Arts student at Banaras Hindu University, knows of this abyss. Having faced molestation for over a month on campus, she finally complained to the college authorities. We all know how this goes, right? How many days, months, years, of our lives as school and college students have been ill-spent looking down firmly at the ground as we walk to bus stops, autos, pretending at deafness, because it’s the easier, better, safer option? Even as our minds would process the filth and venom spewing at us, in the form of the words and actions of a handful of loitering boys? And maybe one day, we decide to escalate the matter to the guardians of our education?

Support was not on the agenda for Akanksha though – the utter lack of action on the part of the authorities pushed her into halla bol mode. She shaved off her head as a mark of protest. Last week, when another girl complained of harassment on campus, she was asked that all-time favourite question that patriarchy-bearers love: “Were you waiting to be raped?” Followed closely with the second-best “Why were you out after 6 pm?” In an interview with Youth Ki Aawaaz, the Vice Chancellor of BHU urged the interviewee to “think like a father” when he was asked why girls are always asked that question.

Think like a father. Ah yes, hello patriarchy – throttle me again please, won’t you?

We don’t run out of episodes. Arpita, a BEd. Student at BHU, told us about the time a much-looked-forward-to out-station trip was cancelled last minute, “because suddenly there was this hullabaloo about who will take responsibility of all the girls?” Her peer, Mamta is irked no end by the “ceaseless rounds of permissions” she and her friends need to take from the authorities, “The boys just whizz in and out and we’re made to feel like we need to justify even breathing!

Meanwhile, we batted a few eyelids even as students at BHU were lathi-charged at by cops, and told (read forced) to take an early Dussehra break. Our very own in-house BHU alumnus narrated harrowing tales of imposed evacuations and hostel girls being packed off to their homes where their fathers et al awaited them.

The fact that the BHU protests have taken the country by storm has a lot to do with the fact that BHU is in Banaras, in Uttar Pradesh. The so-called keepers of morality must be going livid just thinking about the dangers of their sacred institutions turning into oh-no-not-another-JNU! Dissent is not a terribly valued occupation or even state of mind these days, we know, but both the Chief Minister’s politicizing of the episode and the Prime Minister’s avoidance of it – his route during his recent Banaras outing was changed at the last minute – makes it clear that jumla rajniti (politics of corruption) favours hollow aggression as much as a perpetual maun vrat (vow of silence).

A steadily growing throb everywhere. The kind that leads to a large increase in girls enrolling for higher studies in many parts of the country, many of whom come from deep inside the hinterland, singing their own versions of that Cyndi Lauper anthem. The 19-year-olds Nazni interviewed for her story are also trading those safe dreams for bigger, dangerous, better ambitions and desires.

The BHU alumnus in the Khabar Lahariya Delhi newsroom comes from a weavers’ family in Banaras. She’s orchestrating the next Facebook Live, possibly on impositions and women, for the platform.

There is Saumya, a TV news presenter in Banda, who scoffs at the custom of ‘keeping their girls indoors at all times’.

There is also Shivani in Jhansi who applied her Class XII Science to devise an anti-rape belt.

And gold medallist Ekta Maurya in Faizabad who had her own favourite question to pose: Why is it that girls can excel at academics and yet be expected to don aprons?

And local Banda cricketer Shobha who cites Mithali Raj as her favourite player.

And there is…

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By Akshita Pattiyani

By Youth Action Hub- India (Delhi)

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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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