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A Women’s Day Letter To An Affectionate Stranger

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Dear Stranger-Woman,

I am a stranger to you. You don’t need to give me attention, smile at me or speak with me, but you did. I never paid attention to you initially, immersed in my own world of trying to impress my new boss and colleagues at my new workplace.

We hit it off soon. We did not need words; you could not understand mine and I never understood yours. Yet our relationship blossomed. You were like the oasis to the barren desert, the only person who ever smiled at me when I entered the office. When all my colleagues did not even take time to ask my name or acknowledge my presence, you gave me all the attention I wanted. Maybe you felt pity for me for being the only girl in the whole building, but I do not want to put a reason behind it; I just want to cherish and bask in your affection.

I never understood Oriya or the local language you spoke. But unbeknownst to me, your words started making more sense to me, though your language did not. I understood when you asked me to learn your language so that we can converse more. I wish I did, so that I could get to know you more and give you the attention you truly deserved.

I never drank tea, but for you I did. You wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and like a strict mother reprimanded me to drink it. You used to check my water bottle so many times a day to fill it again. Even if I had taken a little sip, you filled it back immediately with the water brimming and spilling everywhere when I opened it, just like your love.

Some days, when I was not feeling well, you used to ask me, in your own way, if I was well. When I used to feel left out, sitting silently without having anyone to speak with, you came as a saviour with your bright yellow silk saree and the big, round red bhindi on your forehead, with your hair, combed back and knotted in a big round updo.

When I was engrossed in my work and casually turned to the side, there you would be, standing on the other side of my cabin with your hands rested on the partition and looking at me with caring eyes radiating such warmth that, for a second, I would feel at home away from home.

You used to give me a ‘sorry’ smile when I was sad. You used to give me a ‘cheer up’ smile when I was upset. I never understood how you could decipher my feelings when I thought I had successfully hidden it. Sometimes you used to console me, not by words, but by your sympathetic smile and compassionate eyes.

One day you took me by surprise when you gave me a large, bright red rose and had kept a slightly wilted smaller rose on the side of your hair. I never had the habit of keeping flowers on my hair but that day, I did.

It is a wonder that two people with such extremely different cultural backgrounds, educational backgrounds and language barriers could bond without any common ground. You loved me like a mother, you understood my necessities before I could ask for them, you were one among few who could break my brave façade and look at me for who I really am, and you were the one person who did it in the shortest time. We spoke more through our eyes than by words.

You used to ask me about my family, about why I was staying so far from home. But you never asked my name and neither did I. It is puzzling that two people knew so much about each other, but never their names! Maybe that’s the beauty of the bond we share. Names are for people to remember, to call or to talk about. We never did any of that. It was just us, our eyes and our smile. Nothing else mattered.

We have an incomprehensible relationship that no one could ever discern. I could call you ‘my mother’, but I don’t want to put a label on it. It is much too pure and fathomless to limit it to a single label. Until you came, I never knew that I missed out on such a relationship. Now that I have it, I never want to let that go.

You probably wouldn’t understand the concept of women’s day. But, on this day, I would like to honour you, the invisible you who walked around in the office either with a broom or a tea tray or water or a waste cloth.

You are the love that nobody recognized.
You are the compassion that nobody cared for.
You are the beautiful smile that nobody looked at twice.

You are the unsung hero that everybody needs but nobody knows.

Happy Women’s Day, My Special Stranger!

With loads of love,
The Girl Whose Morning You Brightened Everyday

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.

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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.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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