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In Spite Of Activism, Not All Women’s Issues Have The Same Visibility In India

An important trend in contemporary India is the greater visibility of women’s activism where issues such as those of women in workplaces, sexual violence, the status of women in India’s culture, and so on are becoming more readily accessible to people. Most of these issues, however, are those that are widely reported, and many important issues in women’s activism remain that are not readily perceptible for most people.

Issues such as female infanticide, child marriage, the rights of women in agricultural landholdings for example qualify as important issues that fall outside the radar. The nature and scale of perceptibility are among the most important factors that determine the reach of women’s activism. A certain disparity, however, persists in the perception of women’s activism wherein some issues gain greater traction whereas other issues are less prominent in the public sphere.

Quite a few prominent women’s movements are largely under-reported in the global arena as well. For example, the women’s movement in Iran, the movement of domestic workers in the United States of America, the Romani women’s movement in Europe, the Piquet era movement in Argentina, the Palestinian women’s movement, the struggles of disabled women, etc. are all not very perceptible to ordinary people the world over. What is largely visible however in the public sphere are the struggles and concerns mostly of women in centres of activity which gets communicated readily. Issues that gain visibility due to their ability to get communicated to a wide audience become the most prominent issues in women’s activism.

We live in an age of critical realism, where credibility is an important aspect that determines mediated reality. The media exists as a prosthetic of the self wherein one looks for definitions of the self within the perceived realness in messages of mediated communication. This is especially true in the case of mediated politics, wherein mediated reality is more influential when it is seen as more credible in terms that are more relatable to the observer. As such, we see clusters of mediated activity wherein events and ideas that invite the empathy of reception in terms of relatedness based on the perceived realness of mediated communication in reception become the predominant issues in the public sphere. Therein, the public sphere is populated with certain issues that appear more real to many observers in terms of relatedness that become the predominant issues in terms of perception.

Much of mediated reception is consumed by working-class people, who also wield influence over mobilisations over prominent issues raised in the public sphere. Many popular issues in women’s activism in India are working-class issues that are perceived as more real in terms of relatedness. While working-class issues such as the gender pay gap, sexual violence, freedom for women in their daily lives, and so on are dominant in the public sphere, at the same time in India, aversion to daughters, for example, is affecting the child sex ratios.

The Guardian reports that more than 63 million women are missing in India and 21 million girls are unwanted by their families as per Indian government officials. However, the phenomenon is largely under-reported. Many working-class families in India raise daughters despite social evils such as dowry being predominant in Indian society. The aversion for daughters becomes an obscure issue because it is an issue wherein activities are carried out secretly or it is not readily talked about openly. With this tendency, the issue becomes one that is not readily visible in the public sphere and as such when the ordinary observer comes across reports of the same, one might not perceive it as real in terms of relatedness. Women’s activism over such issues becomes difficult when public perception over such issues cannot garner a wide audience.

Many issues exist in Indian society wherein women are disadvantaged but the issue is not talked about openly. This can have ramifications in terms of the perceptibility and reach of women’s activism in the public sphere. The movement against sexual violence can be praised for making people in India talk about what was previously one such obscure issue. Another issue that is becoming more perceptible is mobilisations for greater freedom for women in their daily lives such as in the case of being outdoors at night-time in cities. Many issues can also be a case of a lack of communication outreach, or a case of a lack of awareness of their rights or policy outreach, especially in the case of rural women.

All these require wider perceptibility for them to be part of wider movements of women’s activism. With a social silence on many issues concerning women, many women’s issues face the danger of improperly being perceived as real by wider audiences in the public sphere. The occasion for social justice also emerges along with the discussion of issues which with greater perceptibility can have more effect. The problem is one of being real and credible as an issue to the wider audiences of the public sphere, and in this many issues face the problem of social silence or cultural normalization.

Mediated communication and women’s activism can be an effective tool against these, yet for many women’s issues in India, women’s activism still faces the problem of perception.

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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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