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An Indian Judge’s Appointment At The UN Is A Bigger Victory Than You Think

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On October 21, 1996, during the 51st session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the United Nations Security Council election were held, where India suffered a monumental diplomatic disaster, losing a non-permanent seat to Japan by 40-142 votes. This was a surprise shock considering the self-perceived image of India being a benign power in all the Cold war years.

However, tables were gradually turned when in 2010, after 19 years India won the election for non-permanent membership in UNGA after securing 187/191 votes. The wheel turned full circle when recently Justice Dalveer Bhandari was elected as a judge in ICJ (International Court of Justice) for 2018-27 defeating UK’s Christopher Greenwood after 11 rounds of gruesome ballots in both UNGA and the UNSC.

The ICJ headquartered in Hague, is the judicial branch of the United Nations. The ICJ has 15 judges for nine-year term whereby five judges are elected every three years. No two judges may be nationals of the same country. A judge can be dismissed only by a unanimous vote of the other members of the Court, and the judges are expected to remain neutral when disputes irrespective of nations in the party of dispute including their own nation.

This victory was monumental, as for the first time, the informal understanding that Asia to have three judges in the ICJ was breached with India occupying the 4th spot displacing allocation generally reserved for a Western European nation. Also, this would be the first time when any P5 nation will not be represented in the ICJ since its inception in 1945. Moreover, the UK for the first time will not be having any of its judges in the ICJ. Further, this is the first time that any sitting judge has defeated another sitting judge (UK’s Christopher Greenwood was already in ICJ for nine years).

The ferocious diplomatic battle went for 11 ballot rounds where India received 121 votes in the UNGA (almost 2/3rd), and the UK won 9/15 votes in the UNSC. This led to a stalemate as ICJ judge is needed to be elected by a majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC. Finally, UK decided to withdraw its candidature in the 12th round, and India won 182/193 votes in UNGA, and 15/15 in UNSC making way for Justice Bhandari in ICJ.

This withdrawal of UK was not on moral grounds but was purely a strategic calculation. As reported by The Hindu, “After India raised the issue with Trump administration, it suspended its campaign for British nominee.” This was in reference to UK’s pursuit of an unprecedented “joint conference” mechanism where three UNGA members and three UNSC members will decide on next ICJ judge.

The US rejected UK’s demand for suspending the ongoing voting in the UNGA and UNSC after New Delhi approached Washington at the highest diplomatic level. To avoid further embarrassment, the UK decided to withdraw its candidate from further voting rounds and gracefully declared that, “If the UK could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the United Nations and globally.” Also, it was becoming morally untenable for the UK to ignore the voice of almost 2/3rd of nations who had already voted in India’s favour.

This comes as a huge blow for the UK after Brexit, when recently Paris and Amsterdam won the authority to host key EU agencies namely the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) respectively which were previously housed in London.

The reason for this victory is majorly due to India’s assertive diplomacy, where it is not ideologically inhibited to break old shibboleths, India’s diplomatic ideals and declining power of 19th-century superpower UK.

India’s foreign policy after PM Modi’s coming to power has adapted greater pragmatism and developed self-assurance to undertake calculated risks. The Modi doctrine could be well established as comfortably out of the vestiges of colonialism by the pursuit of hard-nosed diplomacy. India is no longer refraining itself from pursuing its national interests and has thus been willing to ensure New Delhi’s place at global high tide. As scholar Brahma Chellaney puts it, “the doctrinaire nonalignment of cold war era is gradually transformed to geopolitical pragmatism.”

Moreover, India has been historically been committed to Global Institutions and their rulings. India believes in global harmony and rule-based order owing to its historical principles of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, “Sarva Dhamma Sambhav”, “Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina”. India also gains huge soft power and diplomatic capital by its active role in UN Peacekeeping forces where India is a major contributor. India’s outreach to Africa, Latin America, Pacific islands through channels of economic diplomacy and soft power sources like Yoga, Gandhi and Bollywood adds to Indian power, especially in the UNGA.

Also, UK is no more a force, as it previously used to be. Prime Minister Theresa May, is already going through rough and patchy waters owing to Brexit negotiations and disastrous election results in 2017. The EU seems comfortably placed even without the UK, and recent elections in France, Germany, Netherlands has put Pro-European leaders at the forefront of EU. The UK is no longer a great economy, and possibly in a year or two, the Indian economy will pass two P5 nations UK & France.

This victory has huge significance for India, as it acts as a shot in the arm for its UNSC candidature in future. This needs to be seen in context as in India also defeated another P5 nation, China, in 2011 when it was elected to the United Nations’ Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), beating the Middle Kingdom in a direct fight for the lone seat from the Asia-Pacific region. These victories depict the newly emerging global order which no longer accepts the post-World War II status-quo and wishes for change suited as per time and needs.

The world has begun to see New Delhi as a global power and a ‘balancer’ whose rise seems imminent. A recent Morgan Stanley report stated that India would become a $6 trillion economy by 2026-27, becoming third largest economy within the next decade.

Ignoring a major economy and the third largest military power will become harder for P5 nations in future. This victory, however, must not slow us down, and India must continue to engage itself both politically and economically in global affairs with the aim of becoming not just an effective ‘veto player’ but also a successful ‘agenda setter.’

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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