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Does Your College Cage Women Just Like These Campuses?

Indian society has always revered women. In Hinduism, man and woman represent two halves of the divine body. There is no question of superiority or inferiority between them. Hindu history is witness to the super-women, such as Gargi, Maitreyi, and Sulabha, whose faculties of reasoning was far superior to that of ordinary mortals. Many female deities like Saraswati, Durga, Laxmi, Kali etc., are worshipped across the country. According to the “Mahabharat,” by cherishing the woman one virtually worships the goddess of prosperity.

On the darker side, the patriarchal system has continued since the time of Rig Veda. Customs and values were made by men to favour men. Women suffer this discrimination in silence.

Historically, the Indian woman has been made to adopt contradictory roles. The strength of a woman is evoked to ensure that women effectively play their traditional roles of nurturers as daughters, mothers, wives, and daughters-in-laws. On the other hand, the stereotype of a ‘weak and helpless woman’ is fostered to ensure complete dependence on the male sex.

An Introduction To India’s Women’s Movement

The term Indian women’s movement is highly contested. The appellation of ‘Indian’, when used for the women’s movement, implies a political and cultural singularity that obscures the movement’s diversity, differences, and conflicts. The problem is not simply one of the disunities but rather has to do with intractable conflicts involving the word ‘women’ that derive from the central position of gender in postcolonial Indian culture and politics.

Indeed, processes of gender – the construction of identities, roles, and relations based on sexual differences – played a key role in the historical formation of the Indian nation-state. But gender cannot be separated from other, conflicting political identities, all of which play a crucial role in the life of the nation.

The Emergence Of Gender Issues

Gender has been a central ‘issue’ in India since the colonial encounter. An overwhelming preoccupation with the ‘woman’s question’ arose from the 19th-century social reform movement, crucially informed anti-colonial nationalism, and remains a point of crisis in India’s cultural, social, and political space. The recognition of gender as an issue forms the basis for India’s women’s movement. One prominent gender concern was status – that is, the rewards and benefits that accrued to women on India’s journey to self-determination, statehood, democracy, progress, modernity, and development.

In 1974, the Indian government published a report, “Towards Equality”, that put the status of women forcefully on the national agenda, by arguing that the position of Indian women had declined, not improved, since 1911 (Committee on the Status of Women 1974). As a result, development and progress became gender issues. Data on gender discrimination in employment, education, land distribution, inheritance, nutrition, and health became impossible to overlook. At the same time, violence against women was on the rise and widely reported in the media. There were cases of rape in police custody, murders of married women (usually called bride-burning or dowry deaths) on a large scale, and sexual harassment in the workplace and on the street.

Women’s issues entered the fields of culture, religion, and law; of family and community structures; of the problems of and official responses to population, poverty, illiteracy, and labour; and of the new social movements of Dalits, environmentalists, tribals, anti-dam activists, peasants, and trade unions.

India’s Shame: Women’s Rights In Prestigious Colleges In This Modern Era

Let’s start from Banaras Hindu University (BHU). On the evening of September 21, 2017, a girl was allegedly molested by some students. The girl cried for help, but none of the guards came to her rescue. Somehow, she managed to call up her friends who took her to the hostel in a semi-conscious state. When the group went to complain, the head, an educated woman herself questioned her and slut-shamed her.

Students then started protesting at the BHU main gate from the next morning. This was the day when PM Modi was visiting Varanasi. The girls were joined by few male student from the University. Their only demand was to get security – install CCTVs, proper street lighting and an active women cell. They wished to speak to the VC but were not allowed access and the protests went on.

The next day, students were surrounded by forces and were brutally lathicharged at night. They all were surrounded by the huge deployment of forces and suddenly, without any prior notice, at around 10 pm, they were brutally lathicharged. It did not stop till the students were in their hostel rooms. Tear gas shells were thrown in the hostel.

It’s not just about BHU only. I also took a look at the hostel rules in other prestigious colleges.

Aligarh Muslim University: It was only last year that the provost of a hostel in Aligarh Muslim University had locked students inside the hostel because they wanted to stay past the curfew of 6:30 pm.

Girls in AMU’s hostels are allowed only one day outside campus – Sundays. If they need to leave mid-week, a fax with their parents’ signature on it has to be submitted a day ahead.

While the curfew hour for women is 6:30 pm, there is no such restriction for men.

Jamia Milia University: In Delhi’s revered Jamia Milia Islamia University, women have a 7:45 pm deadline, while male students can stay out until 10 pm. In Jamia’s women’s hostel, even Ph.D. students “can not absent themselves… except for field work.”

The rules stipulate that even for field work, “leave applications should be forwarded and recommended by the research supervisor and countersigned by the Head and the Dean of the Department in advance before proceeding on leave. The same will apply for their leave from the hostel during the vacations or in case they require leave from the hostel for more than seven days.”

Fergusson College Pune: I asked a friend about how her life at college was, here’s what she had to say:

“Life at Fergusson is awesome but hostel sucks. They try to be as orthodox as they can in the name of security when it comes to girls’ hostels. The in time is 8 pm. A cell phone is strictly prohibited. You have no option other than dining at their hostel mess as the in-time is 8 pm. You are not allowed to bring any of your friends in the hostel who is a day scholar. It is like staying in the prison. The hostels, especially boys’ hostels actually look like prison. The chief rector Mr. Vhankatte just doesn’t give a damn when it comes to the rules. Moreover, he is fully supported by the college principal. You must abide by the rules and failing to which you are simply given the notice to vacate hostel. I clearly remember, it was in 2014, when a girl called her male friend at the hostel gate to hand over practical journals, she was given the notice to vacate the hostel. She did not know Marathi as she hailed from UP and still she was forced to sign an apology letter written by the rector in Marathi. Then one of the guys from ABVP rescued her, but she was threatened that if she was found to have contacts with the ABVP or any other student organisation, she would be rusticated.”

Shri Ram College of Commerce: The 8 pm rule for women and 10 pm for men seems to exist in SRCC as well – based on the assumption that women need protecting while men don’t. While there is an entire spiel for girls on ‘maintaining decorum’ and ‘proper behaviour with the staff’, there are no such directions for boys in their discipline and code of conduct section. Girls are also told, “Residents are expected to dress in an appropriate manner while visiting the dining hall, visitors’ room and other common spaces in the hostel or college.”

Women Empowerment And The Constitution

India’s Constitution makers and our founding fathers were very determined to provide equal rights to both women and men. The Constitution of India is one of the finest equality documents in the world. It provides provisions to secure equality in general and gender equality in particular. Various articles in the Constitution safeguard women’s rights by putting them on par with men – socially, politically and economically. The Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and other constitutional provisions provide several general and special safeguards to secure women’s human rights.

Preamble: The Preamble to the Constitution of India assures justice, social, economic and political; equality of status and opportunity and dignity to the individual. Thus it treats both men and women equal.

Fundamental Rights: The policy of women empowerment is well entrenched in the Fundamental Rights enshrined in our Constitution. For instance:

  • Article 14 ensures to women the right to equality.
  • Article 15(1) specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • Article 15(3) empowers the State to take affirmative actions in favour of women.
  • Article 16 provides for equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office.

These rights being fundamental rights are justiciable in court and the Government is obliged to follow the same.

Fundamental Duties: Fundamental duties are enshrined in Part IV-A of the Constitution and are positive duties for the people of India to follow. It also contains a duty related to women’s rights.

We need to address the height of hypocrisy in the name of safety now. We also need to concentrate on improving safety, changing the mindset of this chauvinistic, patriarchal society and stop politicians and men in power who play rogue games in the name of ‘safety’ and hinder the liberty of women. The video below is so true, it’s scary. It’s time we do something about this now.

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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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