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I’m Enraged. I’m A Woman. I Will Write About My Life Because Nobody Else Will

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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!

Let’s face it – women have been silent bystanders in their own stories.

It happened a couple of months ago. I’d just relocated to New South Wales from New Delhi and I received an email from Anshul. It was a fairly good campaign with a simple request: to tell the world why I write. I thought about a befitting answer for quite some time, and then, with the humdrum of the new place and chores of life as an international student, I thought I’d let it pass. I don’t know what prompted YKA and Anshul to write back to me, posing the same question. The beauty and enigma of it all were that I knew I could elaborate on this three-word topic – and yet, I did not have a sound answer.

Perhaps that is how life is when you’re in the middle of an inferno and are finding who you are, or you are starting a fresh chapter in life with a clean slate. There’s always that one moment of magic. To me, it was receiving this email. Having been a journalist and an author almost all my life, after hundreds of articles and a book, this time, I’d bid the pen goodbye.

I was increasingly disillusioned with what we as writers do. We do pose questions, we voice our dissatisfaction, we get recklessly trolled, our lives are sometimes on the line – but to what purpose? In the age of an information influx, how far does one get when they try to do the balancing act between ethics, principles and a career? I’d decided – this was it. A new profession, a new course and a brand new start. To put it simply – I was running away. To exist as a woman in New Delhi is to subject yourself to a litany of abuses every day. I’d cut my tongue off. I’d accepted silence and complicity. I wanted to lead a normal life. Until it all came blazing down on my face.

An anecdote that made me question the sheer stupidity of my silence was when I felt a crippling sense of unease and when advances were made at me because it is the ‘norm’ when you’re studying abroad. Was this all that my fire had been reduced to? To submit to a group of people who can’t recognize harassment in plain sight – who pass it off as banal and pressurise you to apologise for making the ‘drunk man’ feel so guilty?

If I’ve been able to stand my ground with people constantly denying the validity of my experiences, it’s been because writing has helped me find my strength again. And in the process, I figured that if you do not take up the mantle and stand your ground, you are going to be a site for constant abuse, harassment and gaslighting, by men and women alike. Our politics begins within the ambit of the home and our immediate atmosphere and if all we do is write about a strong feminist ethos and not follow them through in real life, our struggles are but fodder for theatre. Silence in the face of injustice has never helped anybody, and perhaps we owe ourselves the power of our voices.

As women with lived experiences of abuse, violence, torture and harassment – things we face almost every second that we exist – we must write. Write about our abusers. Write about our trauma. Write about our lives. Because if we don’t, nobody will. And things will remain as they are.

Writing is our emancipation. Writing about our lives in times of grave injustice is a political act. When we create records, we create an archaeology of lived experiences – we forge solidarity among women.

My connection with school ended years ago, but teenage has its ways of coming back and revoking memories of benevolent patriarchy. We think that’s just us, but keeping my sister’s experiences in mind – it isn’t. We’re never the ‘only’ generation to have endured slurs for normal and the lewd for the routine. Certainly, there were several strong women before us who had their senses crippled. My grandmother recounts the same horrors and mental exhaustion. Have things changed? I doubt the aura of hype around “yes” and the bland pessimism of “no”. We lie somewhere in between, and this fetid middle ground (where there is only stasis) is only a woman’s place to stay at. Forever in the grey zone.

A lot of people will argue over social media discussions. But times being what they are, social media is our moment of truth. I hope and wish we’re the last generation in the grey zone, and the escalation is only to white. I hope and wish women stop doing patriarchy’s dirty work and lift each other out of an enforced stasis. How can it be love/companionship when all you’re reduced to is neurotic, discounted voices? A connection like that is traumatising. And that’s sadly the trail most defining “relationships” in a woman’s life follow.

I do not know why we’re still here. I do not know why we double-guess and question any little wrong as our fault. I do not know why we raise people (men primarily) to fit a God’s cloak? History’s said it – God’s equally fallible. Even more than humanly possible.

What I do know is that the claustrophobia makes way for air when we write and scream. Do not stop. That’s just what I try to do. And always remember, as adults, whatever we say or do is being watched by many young impressionable kids. Knowingly or unknowingly, in our excessive normalisation of violence and patriarchy, we create monsters. And one day, the circle stops at us and we question,“Whose fault is it?”

For me, writing about my life is one step closer to accepting myself as a person who doesn’t ride high tides all summer. And, that act – wearing yourself out so publicly – is terribly painful and dangerously liberating. To put it simply in one sentence — writing does rescue you when the world bails on you.

Thank you YKA for helping me get back to writing when I’d lost all hope and was dangerously close to settling as a silent bystander in my own story.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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.

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