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12 Fiery Indian ‘Vagina Warriors’ You Should Know This Women’s Day

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The term ‘Vagina Warrior’ was coined by Eve Ensler, the writer of the ‘Vagina Monologues’, to signify a person who’s fighting to end violence against women. This Women’s Day, here are some Indian vagina warriors who’re tirelessly fighting to build a more socially just and gender-just society, free of violence and discrimination.

 

1. Bela Bhatia, Human rights activist

Photo: Indian Writers Forum / Facebook

Bela Bhatia has been instrumental in unraveling state oppression against adivasi women in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Her work has led to the first ever FIR filed under Section 376(2)(c) of the IPC in the Bastar region – against security personnel for gang rape. In January 2017, her home near Jagdalpur was also attacked, with a mob demanding that she evacuate immediately. Her fight for the rights of adivasi women indicates the shameful layers of oppression that exist in Indian society, albeit under a thick blanket of silence.

[Read more about atrocities faced by tribal women in Bastar: “Will Put Chilli Up Your Vagina”: That’s How Tribals In Bastar Are Threatened By Police]


2. Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder – Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network

In a state ridden with conflict and the oppressive AFSPA, Binalakshmi Nepram works to empower survivors of violence, and has spearheaded a movement towards disarmament and peace, with women voices at the centre of it. She has been conferred with the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship for her work, and has made the issue important for policy makers. She continues to speak boldly against violence in the region, on issues like rape at gunpoint, gun control and more.


3. Ashif Shaikh, Founder – Jan Sahas

One of the most inhuman forms of treating women in India is shown by the sickening practice of manual scavenging. It is a form of violence where hundreds of women – Dalit women in particular – are engaged, and oppressed every day. Ashif Shaikh’s Jan Sahas has led a nationwide movement against this practice, liberating over 14,000 women, and training over 200 female survivors of sexual violence as ‘barefoot lawyers’, to help others.

[Also read: In The Case Of Dry Toilets, 95% Manual Scavengers Are Women: Interview With Ashif Shaikh]


4. Akkai Padmashali, Trans rights activist

Akkai Padmashali at Josh Talks

Firebrand trans activist Akkai Padmashali has been at the forefront of the fight for equal rights for trans people in India. A survivor of sexual violence herself, she has empowered hundreds of others through her work and organisation ‘Ondede’, and openly speaks against the violence trans women face in toilets, public spaces, offices, and more. She has broken several norms and has been conferred with a prestigious Karnataka State Award, as well as the Ashoka Fellowship.

[Also read: Interview With Firebrand Trans Activist Akkai Padmashali]


5. Zakia Soman, Co-Founder – Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA)

Zakia Soman (second from left) is a co-founder of the BMMA

Zakia Soman and her team at BMMA have done pathbreaking work towards empowering Muslim women in India, as well as against oppressive laws. She has brought to light the violence and discrimination faced by thousands of Muslim women in India, and openly speaks out against the patriarchy that puts down women in the name of culture and religion.

[Also read: ‘Triple Talaq Qurani Nahi Hai’: Zakia Soman On The Change That 92% Muslim Women Want]


6. Robin Chaurasiya, Founder – Kranti

Robin Chaurasiya was forced to quit the U.S. Air Force because of her sexuality, after which she campaigned to change the oppressive ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Her experience inspired her to come to India and start an NGO for children of sex workers and victims of trafficking to empower them to become leaders. She is a bold voice against the discrimination and violence faced by sex workers, and has impacted thousands with her work.

[Watch: Robin Chaurasiya speaks at Youth Ki Awaaz’s flagship event, CONVERGE]


7. Meenu Vadera, Founder – Azad Foundation and Sakha Cabs for Women

A feminist and social entrepreneur, Meenu Vadera’s work has empowered survivors of domestic abuse to break free from violence, and train as cab drivers. She has started Delhi’s first cab service run by women, and has pioneered the concept of ‘Women in Wheels’. She also writes and engages frequently on various issues surrounding women’s rights.

[Also read: 5 Women Entrepreneurs Talk About Their Work That’s Empowering Hundreds Of Women]


8. Grace Banu, Dalit transgender activist

India’s first trans person to get an engineering degree, Grace Banu has smashed rigid gender norms, and continues to fight for trans and Dalit rights. A strong voice against the glaring problems with the Transgender Rights Bill 2016, Banu has petitioned the government for reservation rights, and Constitutional rights. Progressive changes in the Bill can lead to equal rights for thousands in India. Banu has also addressed the intersection between caste and gender, stating how a minority caste and minority gender are doubly oppressed in India.


9. Lalibai, Dalit activist against manual scavenging

For 15 years, Lalibai worked as a manual scavenger, cleaning others’ excreta with her bare hands. She was forced into the practice at the age of 10. In 2002, she met Jan Sahas’s Ashif Shaikh, who convinced her to give up the inhuman practice. Today, she works on a farm and has formed Garima Shakti Sangathan, a group that is encouraging women in nearby villages to give up manual scavenging. Through her efforts, more than 160 women have been liberated from this caste-based violence. “We now feel capable of fighting for our rights on our own. If somebody is beaten up, we go to the police station without fear. We know our rights. If somebody wants to demand something from the panchayat, we call all Dalit women and then go the panchayat,” she says.

[Read: By The Age Of 10, I Was A Manual Scavenger. This Is My Story]


10. Shabnam Hashmi, Founder – ANHAD

A fiery human rights campaigner and social justice activist, Shabnam Hashmi has been fighting for women and minority rights for the past many years. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. After the 2002 Godhra riots, Hashmi interviewed over 50 gangrape survivors, and fought against atrocities committed on Muslim women. She continues to be a strong force against communal and oppressive forces in India.


11. Urmila Chanam, Menstrual health activist

One of the biggest forms of discrimination and stigma that lakhs of women still continue facing in India is because of a natural bodily process – menstruation. Manipur-based Urmila Chanam is relentlessly campaigning to end this stigma and spreading awareness when it comes to sexual and menstrual health.’Break the silence’ is her motto, as she travels across India and works with several women, health workers and ASHA workers. She has also been conferred with the Voices of Our Future (VOF) global award by World Pulse for her exemplary work.


12. Shruti Nagvanshi, Co-Founder – PVCHR

For over two decades, Shruti Nagvanshi has worked to empower women and children in rural areas, especially in U.P. Through People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), she fights for the rights of marginalised communities and has boldly taken a stand against caste and gender-based violence. As the founder of Savitribai Phule Women’s Network, Nagvanshi is also one of the leaders in the fight against the Hindu conservative patriarchal system. She is empowering many women in eastern UP to become young activists and advocates for change, and has worked on over 3,500 cases of discrimination against women, children and Dalit community. Her work has also led to government intervention, and has been taken note of by policy makers.


By no means is this an exhaustive list – there are so many other inspiring Indians fighting against gender-based violence. Help me add to this list. Who are the vagina warriors whose stories you’d like to tell? or publish your story on Youth Ki Awaaz today with ‘My Vagina Warrior’ in the title!

You must be to comment.
  1. Gaurav Verma

    With all due respect to the great work done by all the individuals. I think they are trying to cure symptoms of a much deeper problem. I know saying these words with no experience on the ground makes me sound stupid, but here are my 2 cents.

    All the work that is being talked about here is a form of discrimination and can only be solved with education. Unfortunately, our education is not secular in nature.

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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.

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        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.

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        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.

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        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.

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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.

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