What’s There To Celebrate About Women’s Day If We Can’t Give Them The Honour They Deserve

The International Women’s Day, as the name implies, is all about celebrating womanhood. It seeks to celebrate women’s achievements, while also acting as a catalyst for change when it comes to gender equality.

The day is celebrated with full zeal and enthusiasm across the globe. It is marked by talks, performances, rallies and marches. As the calendar page turns to March 8, it’s time for everyone to chime in on to the pro-woman conversation. But amongst all these celebrations and jubilation, one question arises in every woman’s mind: will the International Women’s Day ever be successful in granting them the right to equality, for which they have been struggling since ages? Or has it lost its significance in the midst of rampant commercialisation?

The major purpose of the International Women’s Day was to achieve gender equality for women – and this has not yet been realised. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, it will take an estimated 217 years to close the gender parity gap. Gender biases and prejudices against women are still prevalent in the society which is ultimately gobbling up its own morality.

As renowned feminist sociologist Simon De Beauvoir puts it, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Gender is not ‘biologically fixed’, rather, it is ‘socially constructed’. Blatant discriminatory practices against women start as soon as they enter this ruthless world. India’s sex ratio, among children aged 0-6 years, is alarming. The ratio has declined from 976 females (for every 1000 males) in 1961 to around 919 at present. According to a recent report by The Hindu, in all, 17 of 21 large Indian states saw a drop in the sex ratio, with Gujarat performing the worst, dropping 53 points.

Every national census has documented a decline in the ratio, signalling a ubiquitous trend. And the cause of it essentially lies in the tradition of the preference for a son. Sons are preferred because they are said to continue the ‘family line’, and allegedly have a higher wage-earning capacity.

There is a saying in India: “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbor’s garden.” Another one goes like “It is better to have a thousand sons than one daughter.” Girls are often considered to be an economic burden because of the dowry system. After marriage, they typically become members of the husband’s family, often ceasing to take responsibility of their own parents in the process. Preference for a son also often manifests prenatally (through sex determination and sex-selective abortion) and postnatally (through the neglect and abandonment of the girl child). This practice sheds light on the horrifying system of patriarchy, which portrays men as the primary authoritarian figures, and women as ‘objects’ which are to be violated and oppressed by the men.

Gender lines are drawn early, and women continue to be ‘excluded’ throughout their adulthood. The plight of women remains unchanged – even after becoming self- dependent in many cases. They suffer either in the form of unequal pay or the allegations of sexual misconduct rippling through the industries. The gender pay gap still exists even in one of the most developed countries like the UK, where women earn up to 18% less than men. In January 2018, Ladbrokes, EasyJet and Virgin Money revealed pay gaps of over 15% in favour of men. The perverted treatment of women professionals in the workplaces is really astonishing, despite the existing laws that are supposed to protect them against unequal hiring practices, policies and pay.

As per a report by The Telegraph, “The vocal, headline-grabbing fight for women’s rights has only increased in 2018, with female actresses donating money and wearing black at awards ceremonies in support of #TimesUp and BBC journalist Carrie Gracie publicly resigning as China editor over unequal pay.” A year ago, in 2017, women effectively worked ‘for free’ for 51 days of the year because of the gender pay gap. Women have actively revolted against this derogatory practice, and have often succeeded. But the bad predicament of women is not just limited to this.

According to a report on Scroll, “Crimes against women have more than doubled over the past 10 years, according to latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau. As many as 2.24 million crimes against women were reported over the past decade: 26 crimes against women are reported every hour, or one complaint every two minutes, reveals an IndiaSpend analysis based on the last decade’s data.” According to other reports, ‘Cruelty by husband or his relatives’ was the most-reported crime against women. Rape accounted for 11% of all crimes against women.

“I feel that due to media pressure on certain brutally violent incidents, there is greater awareness, and women are coming forward to report crimes,” Flavia Agnes, a women’s rights lawyer and co-founder of Majlis, a non-profit organization that provides legal services to women and children, told IndiaSpend.

Dealing with such issues is a tough task and a lonely battle for the sufferer. We need a provision in the law so that it provides support for those who have faced such difficulties.

On one hand, social networking sites have been bombarded with ‘Happy Women’s Day’ messages. But, on the other hand, the biggest question still remains unanswered, “Is one day enough to celebrate womanhood?”

After centuries of being sidelined and undermined, I don’t think that one day dedicated to us in an ocean of 365 days is a big deal.

Women, who are considered to be the epitome of sacrifice and dignity, have to succumb to this male-dominated society at every stage of their lives. This is something that’s really disastrous – and thus, it demands immediate action. This Women’s Day, let’s not just pamper women with spa packages. Instead, let’s give them the honour and the applause they truly deserve.

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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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