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How To Create And Effectively Manage Online Safe Spaces

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Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

What a strange creature, the internet is!

On one hand, it opens up gateways to new worlds and new experiences, allowing us to meet people from across the globe, forge new connections and new relationships. It provides us with our own personal space, where, through pictures, videos, or words, we can express our feelings – our joys and frustrations about the world.

The internet makes sure we are never alone. We can share details about our lives – from the most mundane to the most profound – and find validation among friends.

But beneath all this, festers a darkness that feeds on toxicity and hate. Throbbing and pulsating with revulsion towards views that threaten its much coveted hierarchy by centering society’s marginalised, this malignant outgrowth lashes out with rage and anger, wrecking the very foundations of civil discourse. When the dust settles, all opposing views have been silenced.

Denizens of the internet happen to be quite familiar with this outgrowth, that happens to be the comments section.

If you’ve ever browsed through the comments section of an article talking about feminism, you know what I’m talking about. For instance, check out the kind of messages Marina Watanabe, who runs the feminist vlog marinashutup on YouTube, received.

To be honest, this phenomenon is hardly restricted to feminism. If you’re advocating for queer rights or the rights of minorities, you’re just as likely to be trolled. To break it down, if you’re not in a dominant position of power, and if you’re challenging dominant views, you are going to be trolled in the comments section. The comments in such cases run the gamut from casual whataboutery to explicit rape and death threats.

If we’re trying to use the internet as a platform to centre marginalised voices, then it’s very important that we create the kind of space where such voices can flourish. Trolling – in its harmless or dangerous variant – is meant to stop any kind of discourse that can upset existing power relations in society. It is meant to prevent marginalised voices from speaking up and articulating their oppression. As such, we need to create safe spaces which can amplify a plurality of marginalised voices and, at the same time, avoid trolls. Here are a few tips as to how to do that.

Lay Down Some Basic Ground Rules

Whether you’re running a group or a page, you need to lay down some ground rules first, to make it clear that you’re not going to be tolerating certain forms of behaviour. I can already see the free speech warriors crying “Censorship!” – but no, this isn’t censorship. The right to hold an opinion does not guarantee you the right to an audience. So, decide on the kind of audience you do want to have along with the kind of audience you want to avoid.

Image Credit: reddit.com/r/socialism/

Many of Reddit’s subs have posting guidelines like the one you can see in the image. Facebook groups and pages can have the same in their description.

By setting up these rules, you’re letting trolls know beforehand, about the kind of discourse that will not be tolerated. That way, they have fewer grounds for screaming ‘censorship’ in case you have to block or remove them.

Be Tolerant, But Do Not Hesitate To Drop The Banhammer

Okay, let’s get one thing straight. If you’re running a group for marginalised people, your first and foremost concern should be their well-being, and not abstract principles.

Understand that as it is, marginalised people do not have enough of a voice within society. Creating a safe space is not an attempt to create an echo chamber as a plurality of views can exist, even within marginalised groups. But it is an attempt to amplify the voices of those who are otherwise denied platforms to speak. And they deserve to be able to do so, in a non-hostile and safe environment.

Blocking a user or removing a comment in this context is therefore not a case of being unable to tolerate opposing views, but one of prioritising the safety and well-being of one’s primary audience/user base.

Respect Trigger And Content Warnings

Trigger and content warnings are meant to be a forewarning to one’s audience about content that might worsen their mental health issues. Such warnings can be potential lifesavers for survivors of traumatic experiences such as sexual assault or hate crimes, along with those suffering from mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.

Trolls will obviously mock trigger and content warnings – but again, as mentioned above, your aim should not be to please the trolls.

If you’re running a Facebook group, another thing you can do in this regard, is have posts go through moderator approvals. That way, a moderator can ask a user to make slight changes if the content demands it.

Obviously, there are many more nuances to such issues. One must always keep in mind that multiple axes of oppression exist, and one can enjoy a certain kind of privilege for one aspect of their identity, and face oppression for another. But these three simple steps are a basic guideline to creating a safe environment for civil discourse among those whose voices need to be heard.

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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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