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Dear Dad, You Raised Me To Be Your Bad Daughter

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As we celebrate the strength and resilience of workers this month, I can’t help thinking of those days when you took us to rallies dressed in red. For children of my age, it was just another outing, but I was getting introduced to the power and essence of slogans like ‘Inquilab Zindabad‘ and “Red Salute” to the workers. Dad, you sent me to St. Mary’s Girls Convent and I immediately belonged to a fraternity of maybe the strongest women in the city. We grew up in a space where no men would be around. From fixing tube lights to getting balls out of muddy bushes to arranging events and doing all the shopping on our own, we were taught to feel complete in ourselves. That’s how I became a feminist. Good values, speaking up against injustice,  and upholding morality in the most difficult situations became a part of our lives and learning. I can’t thank you enough for gifting me such a childhood.

I hope you remember I had taken to reading at quite an early age. At school, Enid Blyton with her numerous thriller and adventure series and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series took my imagination for a joy ride. And back at home “Communist Manifesto”, “Das Kapital”, poems and stories by the great Assamese revolutionary Bishnu Rabha and Jyotiprasad Agarwala, the first Assamese Janpith award-winning book “Mrityunjay” adorned our bookshelves. Reading them, reciting those poems with you by my side moulded my revolutionary thoughts, made me understand what it is like to stand up against oppression and emboldened my heart for big and important struggles. They helped me know more about Communism, Socialism, how Capitalism is ruining the dreams of humble and strong democracies.

Dad, you have very carefully kept us three siblings away from all political influences and activities knowing it had not much to offer, but you never taught me to be silent when hatred, religious fanaticism and bigotry was seen somewhere around. Remember how we used to have healthy debates and you would tell me about the grim situations during the Assam movement and how you had actively been a part of it? Then why is it that today, you ask me to shut my ears and eyes and live a life ignoring the crisis the nation and society faces?

I have grown up, started working and handle almost everything on my own now, staying far from home. Any male colleague asking to help with carrying my shopping bags, interfering in my decisions or paying after a meal, somehow disturbs me because I have never been used to such chauvinist practices, however well intended they may be. This might look like arrogance but I know how to politely decline and happily move ahead with my own responsibilities. Dad, it’s you who taught me how to keep my head held high even in the most difficult situations and never give up on anything only because I was born a girl.

I was encouraged to speak up, to fight back with a fiery yet compassionate heart, to intelligently and wisely have arguments and make my voice heard, then why is it that now you are so upset with me? Why do you ask me to come back home and get married under societal pressure? Why do you feel scared that I’m far away and can be harmed? I want you to know that your little girl has survived it all and will continue to do so. I have amassed wisdom and courage from all that has happened and happens to me, I have been betrayed, cheated on, used by friends and loved ones. But dad, all of these have made me so fearless that I can face any adversity with all the strength I can possibly muster.

Your doubts about my abilities, being so possessive about my ideas and asking me to refrain from raising my voice makes me lose all the battles I daily fight. How can I give up on my values and principles? I already regret choosing a career which doesn’t have much scope to help the downtrodden and distressed. You are my strength, you know how much I believe in what you have taught me and all those values you instilled in me.

Dad, do not stop me now. The world needs young people like me to stand up for causes that matter, to raise our voices against injustice, to help everyone live a life of dignity, to spread the message of love and strength. Otherwise, we all lose. We have failed our society, our nation, our kids as a generation lost in ourselves with no clue where we are even heading with so much political hegemony and communal hatred.

I cannot accept what comes my way without even fighting for what is right, I don’t want to be silent when my children ask me difficult questions. I don’t want to face them with guilt. It’s high time we dust off our comforts and gear up for all that is crucial, to offer strength to all that is failing. Judiciary, law and order, education, economic growth, nothing seems to have survived cheap fascist politics and time does not allow us to be silent anymore.

I want to see you happy and take pride in all that I do and be in good health, for when I fail a battle and get disheartened, I’ll come back to you to gain strength, to boost my spirits again. You have been fighting for these issues for years now, you still attend labour day rallies and marches, speak up for the workers and oppressed and you need to guide me too. I love you, dad, you have made your girl the strongest she can be. And all I ask for is your trust and faith.

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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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