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To All Men: Gender Equality Is Not Just A Women’s Issue

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I was born and brought up in a deeply patriarchal Hindu Brahmin family, in a small village in Mirzapur district, Uttar Pradesh.

I have a very strong inclination towards issues around feminism, gender equality, gender-based violence, masculinity, etc. I became interested in these issues in 2016 when I was pursuing my MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.

Since then, I have been deeply concerned about these issues. I took ‘Gender and Development’ as an elective course in my third semester. I decided to take this course because I was frustrated with the patriarchal, misogynist and sexist atmosphere around me. Many of my male friends started saying that I was being badly influenced by this course and that it was forcing me to develop certain understandings and ideas. This didn’t really matter to me.

There were only two men among 16 women in this course. Among the two, I was the one who actively participated in classroom discussions. I was badly shaken after listening to all the women narrate their personal stories and experiences of stalking, bullying, gender discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse. This made me realise my privilege as a man. I felt that the reality of women was far different from that of men. I went through a lot of literature, theory, documentaries and videos which helped me develop my understanding and deepened my interest.

I started internalising these issues through classroom projects, independent field projects and my own experiences and observations of gender-based violence. I started relating these experiences to what I had experienced with my own family and community. I pushed myself deeper to know how patriarchy functions at different places in different ways. Thus, I got to know about intersectionality.

After completing my MA, I worked on a gender project in Noida. Currently, I am associated with the Manas Foundation in Delhi where I have been conducting gender sensitisation training for commercial drivers.

Coming from a village in Uttar Pradesh and growing up in a patriarchal Hindu Brahmin family, I have experienced and witnessed plenty of gender discrimination and gender-based violence. Today, when I try to figure out who I am and who I was two years ago, these are the answers that I find.

Two years ago, issues like gender discrimination, gender-based violence, objectification of women, male domination, oppression, hegemonic and toxic masculinity and above all, patriarchy were not that important to me. I used to justify such norms, stereotypes and stigmas by referring to culture, tradition, custom and religion. Now, when I look back at myself, I find someone quite inhumane who hadn’t been taught about equality and respect for others.

Today, I hate most of the things I used to believe in and practice at the time. Now, I speak up against every form of discrimination and gender-based violence. I constantly question people and institutions and their complicity in perpetuating patriarchal norms. My upbringing was such that as a man, some of the highest values I was taught were to be dominant, violent, tough and successful at any cost. Today, I find that almost all men have grown up in the same way and the ultimate consequences of this are horrible.

These ‘masculine’ notions lead to every form of violence including sexual, physical, psychological violence. And by believing in such ‘masculine’ norms, we also damage ourselves in many ways – such as by not expressing our emotions, not being able to cry. That’s one of the major reasons that the number of suicides committed by men is higher than that of women. Everyday sexism or rape culture doesn’t happen in isolation – these are the results of our upbringing and socialisation.

I wrote something related to this on my Facebook page when the Kathua and Unnao incidents took place and I would like to cite that post over here.

“Stopping rape (hanging the rapists) is not the only remedy to stop rape. We need to stop the process that creates rape because it has become a culture and culture involves processes. We all might not be therapists but in some or the other way, we have been part of creating an environment. This environment can be seen in every walk and aspect of life that has been normalised in the name of culture, religion, tradition, and custom. We need to deconstruct the whole idea around several institutions like the family, marriage practice, education, the state, public administrations, TV, film and media.”

Earlier, I had a very negative view of my own body because I don’t look my age. I have been body-shamed many times because I don’t carry myself in a conventionally masculine manner. Due to the Gender and Development course and my inclination towards working in the area of gender equality, I understood gender inequality and developed the ability to overcome and move through some of the stereotypes built around masculinity. This course also helped me develop critical and rational thinking. Now, I raise questions when some people beat up a couple just because they hugged each other. I speak out against such moral policing and tell them that instead of creating an issue against consensual hugging, kissing or even sex, create an issue against non-consensual sex like marital rape. You won’t dare to do that because it’s against our Indian culture, right?

In this way, I am trying to convey to everyone – particularly my male friends – that gender studies is not just for women in the same way as gender equality is not only a women’s issue-  it’s an issue for men as well.

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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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