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As A Person With Disability, Writing Is A Powerful Way To Make Myself Heard

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Editor's note: Youth Ki Awaaz has turned 12, and this post is a part of #WhyIWrite, a campaign to celebrate Youth Ki Awaaz users who have spoken up about issues that matter to them. If you'd like to share what motivates you to write, publish your story here!

I am a person who has written for most of her adult life, in a number of genres. My writings have been an assortment of various degrees of ‘excitement’, ‘incitement’, ‘education’, and/or ‘pain’. Many times, it has been a conscious variant of a highly motivated unconscious activity, just like dreaming.

I started writing when I was 18, but that was in a completely different genre. Initially, I started writing poetry, and that too, the sad ones you write when you are lonely – without friends and without age-appropriate activities. But now when I look back, I see it was a kind of defence mechanism or a way of distancing myself from unpleasant thoughts and feelings.

Gradually, my approach towards everything changed with age, education and maturity and so did my writings. I began to question the meaning and purpose of my life. The ability to write became the reiteration and confirmation of ideals that upheld the objectives of what all I wanted to achieve.

Sometimes, putting things into words is the initial step before converting those words into action. I found writing to be a way of strengthening and polishing my vision for the change that I desired to see. Writing on disability issues gave me an opportunity to articulate – not just what is, but what could be. I started sharing my personal stories about how I could get accessible and inclusive schools or how I was unable to attend regular colleges. My personal stories encouraged other people in similar situations to get involved.

Despite the passage of various acts and pieces of legislation, disparities in healthcare, education, and employment are still witnessed and persons with disabilities are unable to fully participate in every aspect of society. So I started penning my thoughts and experiences to spread awareness about such issues and to pinpoint the lacunae in the system. I realised that the perspectives of persons with disabilities, especially those in the younger age group, were missing from the literature available. And challenging public policies requires listening to the stories and experiences of people with disabilities.

There is no doubt that in present times, we see people with varying disabilities holding all kinds of positions in the workforce as well as leading successful personal lives. Though we have more access to assistive devices and support than ever before, yet the stigma surrounding disabilities remains strong as ever. The truth is that people without disabilities are still afraid of the unknown. They do not realise that ‘people with disabilities’ is the only group in society that anyone can join at any time.

Through my writings, I aim to dismantle the idea that living with a disability is either something to be pitied or an inspirational act. If individual narratives are gathered into a larger collective voice, we all can provide a sense of urgency. There is power in numbers, and often the loudest voices begin with just one. I think that our growing strength and visibility will definitely make the goal of inclusive development increasingly possible.

I believe that if young persons with disabilities also start writing about their unique set of personal accounts and share experiences of their families in areas like healthcare, education, and employment, all of this can personalise advocacy.

Stories have the potential to spark a listener’s attention. Human beings are innately programmed to relate to fellow humans. When we relate, we begin to care and to take action. We all can harness the power of writing to make disability-related issues both concrete and personal.

Personal experiences can be insightful to lawmakers and affect potential legislation that benefits not only themselves but also those around them who have undergone similar challenges. The challenge is in acceptance. Through their writings, young people with disabilities can bring a lot more awareness. By removing attitudinal barriers, we can increase the opportunities for everyone. Not only this, they can get a chance to feel they have contributed something valuable.

Through my writings, I believe that, though little, I have been able to bring a few positive changes in society, especially for women with disabilities. It is rightly said that civilisation’s greatest single invention is the sentence. In it, we can say anything. Whether we are writing a novel or a letter, or whether it’s a tweet or a Facebook status, we should always share our stories and let the world know about us and our challenges. We ought to make our voices 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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