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An Entire Night Of Women, By Women And For Women

By Shruti Kondi:

After getting lost in the parking lot of the LaLiT Ashok while carrying three bags full of posters for The Ladies Finger’s Leddis Night, and simultaneously cursing my friend for not answering my calls, I saw a sign that pointed me in the right direction – to a hall that would soon be filled with women in Sridevi costumes celebrating a night of laughter with a line-up of epic performers including Aditi Mittal, Deepika Arwind and Shrirupa Sengupta.

Being the amazing and helpful intern that I am, I walked over to the registration desk to find out if there was something that I could do only to be greeted warmly by my colleague who asked me where I had been the entire day and why it took me so long to get there. But before I could answer, someone else came up to her about a poster problem or a goodie bag emergency and she disappeared.

Photo Courtesy: Sandbox Collective

I carefully took to avoiding her for the next hour as I helped direct the crowd of hundreds of selfie-taking Shashis, Chandnis and Manjus to the registration desk as they excitedly talked about the prospect of a real ladies night with no men around! Because that’s what this was all about. An entire night of women, by women and for women.

I go to an all-girls college so I’m pretty familiar with how women are when they are around only women. And it’s not easy to describe. As I entered the lawn where the crowd of women were waiting near the registration desk, I had the same feeling I have every time I walk down our famous Mount Carmel College drive. The immediate feeling of comfort and confidence that I can, well, generally chill out. And ‘chill out’ is exactly what I and the rest of the audience did for the entire evening!

In general, I’m a pretty clumsy and forgetful person and throughout my internship, I’ve tried my best or at least made an attempt to be more responsible than my usual wallet-losing, never-on-time self. I stood next to the stage, worrying about the task I’d been handed. I had to keep a watch on the timing of each performance and signal to the performers when their time limit was at a close. I felt like this was a job I was sure to mess up at some point. However, the dance troupe Dhurii took the stage and my worries immediately dropped off the radar. Everything from Dhurii’s costumes to their energy on stage was fabulous.

As the Sridevi medley to which they were performing began, the crowd went wild, hooting and cheering them on and the energy in the room skyrocketed to a point from which it didn’t come down all night. Stand-up comedian Shrirupa Sengupta’s MCing made sure of that.

Theatre artist Deepika Arwind. Photo courtesy: Sandbox collective

I was completely blown away by theatre artist Deepika Arwind as she performed an act from her piece “No Rest in the Kingdom”. She portrayed the role of a stereotypical old Bangalore boy and from the many exclamations of “OMG, this is so real” and “Wow, I cannot believe how accurate this is,” I think it’s safe to assume that my fellow audience members were just as stunned. I was surprised at how many women could relate to one part of the act where she enacts a scene about an ‘old Bangalore boy’ trying to ‘help’ a girl who’s waiting for a cab late at night. After her performance, everyone around me was sharing their own stories that were similar to what Arwind had performed and suddenly I realised, all these women – of all age groups – had experienced the same things I had.

After a super quick break (the ladies had been enjoying their Sridevi-themed cocktails after all), we returned to Deepika Mhatre’s standup piece that left everyone giggling helplessly and caused my friend to repeatedly exclaim, “Awww, she’s adorable.”

Aditi Mittal in action. Photo Courtesy: Rohit Iyer

But the piece-de-resistance of the evening was most definitely Aditi Mittal. I have stalked Ms Mittal thoroughly on social media and watched and re-watched her videos at least a hundred times but to see her perform that night left me in awe as tears of laughter ran down my cheeks. It was my turn to jab my unfortunate friend every time Aditi said something relatable. So, constantly.

I’m pretty sure that by this time, I’d forgotten all about my time keeping job. Good thing Shrirupa had it all under control. Because honestly I was too engrossed in trying to figure out who’d win the prize for the best Sridevi costume.

But the evening wasn’t over yet. In fact, now was the time for the energy in the room to be channelled onto the dance floor as DJ Prarthana spun some amazing vibes.

As I danced, handed out goodie bags and mogra flowers and tied up the end of my dupatta (part of my attempt at nailing Sridevi’s white salwar in “Lamhe”), I couldn’t help but admire the scene. Over 500 women of all ages in costume, dancing and laughing like they had not a care in the world, wearing all manner of funky sunglasses well into the evening, pallus and dupattas all over the place. It was an experience. And in that moment, I was so happy to be one of them.

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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, 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.

Bidisha was selected in’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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