This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Dhanya Ramakrishnan. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Flawed Impressions: Women Want Equality, Not Dominance

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“Dhanya, come and help me fold the clothes.”

“Ugh – nope, I have important work to do.” *pretends to read something on a phone or iPad*

“It’s high time you moved from the sofa and started helping around the house a bit. Damn lazy you have become. I don’t know what you will do at your in-laws’ place. Mind you, they are not going to be lenient as me.”

Sounds familiar?

A similar mantra reverberates in nearly every Indian household, when it comes to a girl child. The moment I retort, I am generally met with “You and your male chauvinism. Nothing is going to work. Fighting is not going to help you anywhere. I don’t know how she is going to run a household. Poor chap, this girl will make him do all work.”

There begins the diatribe which commences at the slightest provocation, culminating in a not-to-be-resolved clash – between the vulture-like ladies of the house and the neighborhood and the rebellious girls who are generally viewed as appalling creatures of the society who will defame the family name one day with their outrageous actions.

I am not one of those who believes that women need to be worshipped as goddesses and be given every other right in the world. Neither do I share posts which exemplify the ‘hidden sacrifices’ behind the making of a strong woman. I don’t think that the roles should be reversed, either.

This society does have a flawed perception about feminists. In all probability, there are some who have extremist views – and it is precisely because of them that such fallacies arise.

Feminism, in my opinion, is just about equal rights. I want to talk about simple day-to-day things which are more relatable, to which not much importance is given. Endless rants possibly reverberate through the minds of nearly all modern girls. Yet, it doesn’t seem that the situation has significantly improved.

I do question traditions, and I openly show my disdain for conventions which seem to respect men more. But I do not advocate female supremacy. That’s even worse. The populace of a community should not have an invisible barrier between genders all the time. Rather, they should work together to evolve into a progressive society which nurtures equality and growth.

According to me (and I think most people will concur), feminism is about not delegating any tasks to a woman. It’s not that we do not want to do these tasks – it’s just that we would like to do them in our way, and not be coerced into doing them.

For instance, we do not say that we won’t cook. Instead, we ask you not to judge us or pity the ‘poor guy’ who has to survive on junk food. That ‘poor guy’ can chip in too, after all. We do not want to be labelled as lazy and irresponsible if we are not handy at household chores. We can learn. More importantly, we do not want to hear the notion that the guy needn’t learn household chores as it is ‘not his duty’, and thereby let him hit the couch while we slave about. This is something that is annoying for most of us women.

My friend once teased me about the lack of my cooking skills, saying that my future husband would suffer because of this. When I asked him why I should learn cooking, he told me that only a woman has the capability to run a family and hold all the threads intact. Well, this flatters you, right? But no, it’s just sugar-coated male chauvinistic bullshit. Why can’t a man take care of his family? Again, I am not saying women should stay off the arena, but a man can equally help a woman nurture the delicate fabric of their family.

Cooking and doing household chores, in my opinion, are basic survival skills which every human being needs to know. Delegating them solely to women is not fair, and is preposterous, to say the least. If a woman can do them, so can a man. After all, women can run multi-million dollar companies as well.

Feminism is not about expecting the woman to ‘lord over’ – it is about not expecting us to be servile. I still come across instances where a wife is expected to drop everything and run, when her husband calls her for something as trivial as a glass of water or passing the mobile phone which may be lying a few metres away. But, when a wife asks for so much as a glass of water from a man, tongues cluck in disapproval.

Feminism is about having equal freedom at home. No different rules for girls and boys. I agree that the world is not safe for a girl. But, why is it so in the first place? Not many boys step out of their houses with their parents worrying for their safety. We also want this freedom. We do not want to be taught to be cautious and live risk-free lives all the time. We want boys to learn about knowing their boundaries and respecting womanhood as a part of being a good human being.

We do not want tags to be piled up on us, right from the day we are born. “We are born to serve the family.” – most boys never have to hear such an instruction. Instead, they are often shown that they need women to take care of them, and that they need to protect them by cocooning them inside a nest.

Feminism is about having equal rights on the career front. We often express our willingness to quit our jobs if the situation demands – but this should not be taken for granted. More importantly, we do not want you to think that we will disrespect men if we happen to earn more than them.

Things are changing, no doubt. But there are still millions whose dreams are shattered because of such antiquated attitudes. A girl may be able to land her dream job and reach the zeniths of her career. There are also many families which are proud of their daughters-in-law.

However, somewhere or the other, people do feel threatened unwittingly, and then try their best to curb that independence. Many people admire independent women – but once they have to live with them, insecurities come to the fore in the ugliest ways possible. And it’s often a given that a woman still has to perform her household duties even if she is running a company.

The days of yore had a clear division of roles – the woman at home and the man at work. It was almost the very purpose of her existence – to serve the man who very kindly put a roof over her head. I am bemused by the rationale behind such an arrangement.

A girl was told not to work for herself, so that she could work at home to make the man comfortable. This, in turn, would enable him to act as the ‘head’ of the house, which chiefly entailed making decisions and providing for the family. The girl often had to accommodate his eccentricities, simply because he was the money-maker in the family, and therefore, deserved respect.

Ironically, people rarely saw the gaping hole in this logic – the fact the men were the ones who stopped their wives from working. Women too seemed to accept their roles with a great zeal, which was seemingly and frequently stereotyped in the form of confrontations between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-laws.

These days, however, things have changed and women are proving themselves to be extremely capable in many (if not all) fields. These arguments are debated fiercely all over the world – but seemingly, to no avail.

If a girl rebels, she is often frowned upon and branded as some sort of arrogant, dominant freak. Feminism is all about trying to disabuse such ridiculous suppositions. It is about clearly stating the fact that we do not want to be treated any differently just because we are women. We want to function as a unit, supporting and complementing each other, thereby making our world (families, and ultimately, society) a better place to live in.

A version of this post was first published on the author’s blog.

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Ramesh Sharma/India Today Group/Getty Images
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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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