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

Here’s Something All College Kids Need – A Rainbow State Of Mind

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When you come back from a tiring day at college or work, lie down on your bed, and message your best friend, “Bro, I’m dead,” do you think of the thousands of people who are genuinely considering ending their life at that instant?

Are you tired of fearing sexual assault because of your gender? Are you tired of hiding who you love because sharing that could put you behind bars?

Are you tired of justifying your pronouns to people each and every day? Are you tired of people trivialising your mental health?

Are you tired of this patriarchy, of this homophobic culture and of wilfully ignorant people around you drowning the screaming silence of your inner voice?

Because we were, we are, and we did something about it.

That’s why I decided to found Project Voice+, which is a volunteer-based organisation, a forum to share your stories, ideas and messages to inspire youth from around the world. Apart from sharing stories, interviews and fashion blogs, we aim to bring about behavioural change through offline events and the campaigns we run on our social media.

In collaboration with Nazariya LGBT, a grassroots LGBT-Straight Alliance, we organised ‘Rainbow State of Mind’, an attempt at providing the youth a platform to voice their ideas, concerns and suggestions, as well as make meaningful partnerships to bring about tangible change in the field of ‘gender and sexuality’. An event of interesting dialogue among the queer community and allies, January 27, 2018 was a reflection, refraction and dispersion of the most golden beam of sunlight on a Saturday afternoon. Knowledge and insight filled the cozy space of South Asian University, Chanakyapuri, as each shade of incident light bounced off its walls in all of its glory and Pride.

The four hours there were brimming with enriching, candid experience-sharing witnessed by an engrossed audience. We began with a workshop by Ipsa James, a psychologist at Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing, who covered important topics such as bullying, the different genders and sexualities, the various kind of attachments, the importance of healthy relationships, and the impact that our sexuality has on our mental health. The thought-provoking session was followed by spoken word performances by Uppa Tsuyo and Angana Sinha Ray. They showered us with poetry and left us with goosebumps, and amidst the constant appreciative finger-snapping (a staple of any spoken word event!), they left us teary-eyed.

Poet Uppa Tsuyo performs.

The stage was thereafter conquered by our fiery panelists, who discussed our theme, “Labels, Language and Contemporary Queer Issues”. Ipsa James and Ruchika Kanwal from Karma Centre, provided a psychological perspective to the discussion, while Ruth, the Co-Founder of Nazariya was able to highlight the issues faced by queer community at educational institutions. Shambhavi Saxena, writer and editor at Youth Ki Awaaz, answered questions based on personal experiences, and brought forth conversation around the visibility of queer individuals and a reluctance to progress from the older staunch views. Rudrani Chettri, the Founder of Mitr Trust, expressed several concerns of the transgender community and elucidated that existence and survival are increasingly necessary in a period of coming to terms with personal identity and the issue of being judged by one’s appearance.

“The Politics of My Bedroom”, an open mic session, concluded the event for the day but we hope the conversations we initiated will continue beyond it. We tried our best to create a safe-space where confidentiality was respected and people were sensitive towards differences. Around two hundred people attended this event, and if each of us take these discussions back to just our families and friend circles, we can amplify our voices exponentially.

This was Voice+’s sixth offline event, and an experience that I have personally learnt a lot from. Organising this event was a roller-coaster. From unprofessional behaviour from world renowned organisations, to breaking collaborations with misogynist “Gender Equality Cell” heads (even if it meant losing a venue), to actually understanding the privilege that I have been born into, every second of ‘Rainbow State of Mind’ reminded me why Voice+ was started, and realised how much we still need to do.

Two of our guests were stopped by guards at the gate of our venue because they are trans and appeared ‘different.’ A much bigger fight lies outside these safe spaces we create at our events. My journey as an ally started when I was in the eighth grade, and someone posted “I am a lesbian but you’ll never know who I am” on our school’s confession page. I was disturbed; I didn’t understand how loving someone could be a crime. I still don’t.

Poet Angana Sinha Ray performs.

“People” are being criminalised for who they love. “People” are being criminalised for expressing their gender. It’s not about “them”, “they”, “their community”, “their rights”- it’s about us. How are we okay with this? All of us are comfortable being secret allies, in safe spaces, where everyone appreciates our support. It is not enough to get colourful pictures at Pride. Listen to those within the community. Do your research. Be visible with your support. And most importantly, speak up. Being a straight ally means letting your voice be heard, both in celebration and in support of safety. Being an ally means defending members of the LGBTQIA+ community and nipping ignorance and hatred in the bud.

Even if something doesn’t directly impact you, but you know it’s wrong, let your voice 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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