At A Sports Workshop In Bhachau, I Saw A Conflict Between Tradition And Equality

In an interesting visit to Bhachau, a semi-urban block located in the Kutch district of Gujarat, a team of trainers from Pro Sport Development, an organization working for the holistic development of youth through sports, faced challenges in bringing together boys and girls to address gender issues in society.

In the district most advertised by Gujarat Tourism, there are unnoticed tears behind the beautiful ‘ghungats’. Unseen and unheard by tourists and travellers are the cries of young women who fight with their parents to attend colleges. Economically, Gujarat is one of the most developed states in India, but it has not escaped the conflict between regressive traditions and progress that is present throughout the country.

As a part of Kadam Badhate Chalo (KBC), a youth-led initiative to end Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), a workshop on Understanding Gender Through Sports was held in Bhachau in December. This 3-day workshop is uniquely designed to address gender issues using sports as a medium and was conducted by Pro Sport Development (PSD) in collaboration with the Martha Farrell Foundation (MFF) and the Society for Participatory Research In Asia (PRIA).

The workshop, held in Nav Gam, Bhachau, was attended by 27 youth (13 male and 14 female) from nearby Vondh and Manfara villages. These villages have extensive problems related to poverty and illiteracy. Only 52% of the 2,316 people residing in Manfara know how to read and write, but that figure drops to only 42% for women. Manfara has a government high school with students attending from 11 neighbouring villages, but most girls study only up to class 10. There were only 8-10 girls studying in class 11 and class 12, which is less than one girl from each nearby village.

Most of the students, regardless of their gender, drop out of school once they complete class 10. Majority of the boys migrate to cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai to work as labourers and pick up odd jobs, while the girls stay back at home to get married. Higher education is not an option for most of these young women. One of the female participants at the workshop, 15-year-old Vidisha* revealed, “Our parents say that girls should work at home. We are destined to get married and work at our in-laws, but we want to study and work.

Due to the cultural setup of Manfara, and under pressure from parents, the government high school has a set of rules and restrictions that bar girls and boys from having any form of communication. The parents don’t want their girls to talk to any boy. This has made the school change the way it teaches, with a teacher bringing all the girls to the class in a group. Then, they are all taken away till the end of the lesson to make sure that the boys and the girls don’t talk. Furthermore, once the school day is over, girls are let go 10 to 15 minutes before boys to make sure that they don’t talk to each other on their way back home.

Talking about why girls are made to sit separately, Vidisha* added, “We are made to sit separately in school, and school authorities make sure that there is no communication between boys and girls on the demand of our parents. Our parents and village are worried about the society. They don’t want us or any girl to talk to boys because they want to make sure girls don’t go down the wrong path. If we talk to anyone, we will be kept at home and not be sent to school. The school authorities put a lot of restrictions on us in order make sure that we all get an education.”

During the ‘Understanding Gender Through Sports’ workshop which was focused on bridging the gender gap between girls and boys, it was noticed that boys and girls maintained a distance of at least five feet between each other. They also did not utter a single word in the presence of boys. Any conversation or communication between boys and girls is still seen as a taboo in villages around Bhachau. Their understanding of gender was hard to break down at this time, but comments from participants such as those in this article show the seeds of change are there and KBC will be returning to Bhachau.

The next step for KBC is to raise and train youth leaders in and around Bhachau, who will work towards ending gender-based violence and ensure equal opportunities for women in every possible way. It will be a hard road, but it is important that we take steps towards change in a culture which stops women from studying, restricts women to kitchens, and discriminates and disregards womanhood.

* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the speaker

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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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