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#MeToo Was A Product Of The Society Staying Silent For Too Long

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The Carmichael Show is an American TV show that I love to watch when I want to unwind. It is edgy, funny, and talks about serious issues rather effortlessly so you don’t feel uncomfortable, but at the same time sit and think about it.

The protagonist Jarrod Carmichael is of an African American descent. He has his own issues and entertaining methods to deal with them. His family is complex and often relatable, to a certain extent of political views, with our own parents. His girlfriend Maxine symbolises (at the risk of sounding pretentious) ‘today’s woman.’ She is an educated feminist; she is smart, has the ability to think critically, and also comes with a solid foundation of privilege (she was born to a white guy and an African American woman). This seems like an oddly long introduction to a show that is not very well known in India and especially for the topic that I am going to talk about. But I swear there is a strong correlation.

The other day, a friend of mine gave me a call to ask about the reference “You are being such a Maxine!” She told me how her partner said this to her while she was trying to explain how Bollywood is taken over by faux feminism as they watched a regressive blockbuster starring an A-list actor. I was offended for her. Why? Because Maxine never minces her words when she talks about rape culture or racism or the problematic views of the US Republicans on female reproductive rights.

She is often mocked in the show for being a buzzkill because she is full of idealistic hope that things will get better once we start talking about them. Sure, she has her own flaws but the show satirises how we silence women when they start talking. The show is that. So when my friend’s partner called her ‘Maxine’, in my head it sounded like, “Shut up! Stop talking! You’re being a buzzkill. You’re taking this way too personally.”

I come from a privileged background. I am aware of the mammoth difference between the upper and lower castes, between the rich and the poor, and between men and women. I acknowledge it and I am grateful for my privilege. All the opportunities that were given to me to study and learn from amazing women have guided the way I perceive certain issues. Personally, digital activism is something that I had generally avoided.

But I saw the hashtag #MeToo trending on Facebook and I was left gutted; partly because of what is happening with women around me and the world, and partly because I had just finished watching “The Handmaid’s Tale”. The sheer volume of posts on my feed alone was appalling. There was an imbalanced emotional turmoil within me. It felt like Margaret Atwood’s dystopian story wasn’t actually dystopian. It felt like we are gradually marching towards a time where women’s sense of self would be ripped off and we would cease to exist.

It took me some time to understand that studying about something does not necessarily translate to you contributing to that field. Just writing term papers on Luce Irigaray’s feminism was not going to do anything. There have been times when I have kept quiet when my brother or a male friend or anyone of the opposite sex casually slipped in a sexist joke. I am guilty of having done that because I felt that they haven’t studied all of this. Telling them the nuances of sexism is just going to waste my time. It will be like banging your head against the wall because they do not have the bandwidth to understand the magnitude of the problem.

It was my own convenient way of not having to deal with another problem. I have been that person who would (forcefully) laugh away at a male family member’s joke on calling someone a ‘pussy.’ Who is going to explain to them that being a pussy is a compliment, not an insult? Will they get my point? Who is going to go through the ordeal of being the ‘Maxine’ of the family?

It took me a while to be able to shut them up and call out on their bullshit. That is what the hashtag is about. It is not about solving the issue of sexual predation by powerful men. A social media trend is not going to do that. The trend is about initiating a dialogue, making men uncomfortable because they sure as hell are responsible for their actions.

It is not about seeking attention or being subject to pity. It is about solidarity. It is about seeking comfort and courage in those two words posted by millions of women across the world. It is about knowing that the women who only liked your update but did not post it have gone through it as well. They know what it is like.

The hashtag is about understanding why your voice matters. It is about motivating people to realise that it is important to call out on what is wrong, especially when it is being done by a loved one. You keep trying. You keep at it.

That is the cultural inheritance you want to pass on to the future generations… a culture of resilience and where women stand beside each other, one Maxine after another, because we are all glorious beautiful pussies!

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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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