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Why Is Our First Instinct To Dismiss A Report On India Being The Most Unsafe For Women?

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A Thomas Reuters Foundation survey of about 550 global experts on women’s issues has ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country in a global perception poll, followed by war-torn Afghanistan and Syria. Health care, access to economic resources/ discrimination, cultural/tribal/religious or customary practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking were the six areas which were considered to arrive at this conclusion. While the National Commission for Women has rejected the report, claiming that a small sample size cannot be considered as a representation for a population of 1.3 billion, I am convinced, we’re headed there for sure. If the categories considered for the poll are studied carefully, we will come across authentic data to back up the grim reality of the state of women in our country. We won’t need perceptions over hard facts that point out the obvious. So this one time let’s not feel bad for losing the chance of rejoicing at having done better than Pakistan and instead acknowledge the problem. Congratulations to us on becoming the most unsafe country for half of our population. We beat everyone in misogyny and violence against women!

In the Global Gender Gap report 2014, which benchmarks gender gaps in 142 countries in economic, political, education and health-based criteria; India ranked 141 above only Armenia. National Family Health survey indicates that 35.6 per cent of women are chronically undernourished with body mass index (BMI) lesser than the cut-off point of 18.5. India accounts for the maximum number of maternal deaths in the world, it also accounts for the highest number of deaths due to breast cancer in the world. Geography, socio-economic standing and culture contribute to the subsequent health of our female population. Illiteracy, poor sanitation, poor hygiene and nutrition, poor access to healthcare facilities, early age of marriage and forced marriage further contribute to the poor quality of health for women and girls. This is a clear indication of indifference from the concerned authorities and policymakers while dealing with women’s health issues. The women keep losing the battle with their own bodies as the society keeps on blatantly demanding domestic subservience while stripping them of their basic civil rights.

Crime against women has increased by 83 % between 2007 and 2016 according to government data and reports. More than five hundred rape cases have occurred in Delhi alone in 2018, and the overall crimes against women are on a rise compared to previous year. Sexual and sex-based brutality has outshined India on the global front. As a country, we are incredibly tolerant of the violence against women which is in fact backed up by the rapid increase in the numbers of gender-based violence cases every year. We have a plethora of crimes against women starting from sex-specific abortions resulting in declining sex-ratio to murders, dowry deaths, honour killings, female infanticide and foeticide, sexual violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, marital rape, forced and child marriage, acid-throwing, and abductions. Hence, the survey pointing out that, women are at a high risk of sexual violence and being forced into slave labour in this country is not far from the truth.

The women are expected to navigate through workplaces, homes, streets at their own risk. They are supposed to be wary of the men about to assault them and remain unruffled by the indifference of the bystanders. Are we lamenting the loss of exclusion of half the race from public life, power at home like we had in the olden days, the gradual replacement of hierarchical society with an egalitarian one? This is the only viable explanation as to why some of us are bent on removing women from public-professional domains by forever posing a threat to their safety and well being. Only consistency seen in the general attitude of perpetrators picking up the victims is their gender and it hardly matters if the victim is a three-year-old, a twenty-three old or an eighty-three-year-old woman. Women who speak up are often ridiculed, threatened, discredited and ostracized by the society and hence, most of them remain silent, losing their voice in the familiar dissonance of victim blaming. Women are, therefore, led to believe that silently removing ourselves from situations where we are actually victims is the only way out. But, we can no longer delude ourselves; we need to fight for our right to safe access to every place and at all times.

Diagnosis is the first step towards a cure and eventual recovery. Are we just focusing on the symptom instead of the cause of the disease? There’s more to the violence and misogyny towards women than the individuals who perpetrate such crimes who are held accountable and punished sometimes. We need to stop treating these assailants as outsiders and recognize them as the products of our society, a part of our community. It is easy to shift the blame on anyone or anywhere other than ourselves but what are we doing to control this pandemic?

What is wrong with our culture that keeps on producing rapists, entitled men who believe that it’s their right to assert control over a woman’s body? What is wrong with our society that keeps on perpetuating the tolerance around violence against women, which is spreading like an epidemic and all of us are allowing it to flourish? Our history, culture, society, politics have been unfair to women; it has not only been successful in marginalising and invisibilizing us, it has also cheated women out of their desired lives. I am in a serious dearth of scapegoats to burden with the responsibility of checking on this culture/society which is bent on eliminating women and their right to a full life as free citizens. I am blaming the internalised instructions for women to accommodate male pleasure, approval, comfort and their selfish demands and internalised misogyny for men to feel no discomfort in dehumanizing women. I am blaming the culture that has forever silenced the rest of us while the men watched in silence.

Is this not a real problem, a crisis that needs immediate attention? We are headed somewhere as a country, a place where no one can truly belong. Our consciences tucked away and our empathies lost long ago. Will this bring us on streets to agitate? Or are we past that too? Will this make it to the prime-hour debate with a panel of experts in newsrooms? This isn’t a lone case that media will cry hoarse about, this is not an anomaly, don’t let anyone fool you. This is the grim reality of our everyday existence at least the women’s and it has been here since forever and it’s not going away anytime soon. Let’s start with blaming the system that is lax at maintaining the safety of women in public spaces, despite what happened in December 2012 in Delhi, which was one time when we were angry and took to streets, demanding human rights for our girls and women. We made it to international headlines for our outrage for the ghastly gang rape. Let’s not forget it wasn’t the only gang rape or rape that happened that year. Let’s not forget despite the measures taken by the government the violence against women has increased. Let’s not forget the women who aren’t privileged enough to have a crime against them acknowledged, much less dream of justice, as they flounder through the intersections only to slip into the interstices the society loves to hide their minorities in. Bottom line is that the system is not doing enough to protect its non-male population. The presence of laws does not guarantee justice if the authorities fail to execute the laws effectively.

With the advent of social media and its indispensable presence in our lives in recent years, we have encountered, yet another way patriarchy has invented to harass women into silence. The hatred for women and the spaces they occupy has reached the comments sections and inboxes – reminding us we do not belong here, making us feel unsafe. Hate online includes everything from snubbing and insulting, mocking to unsolicited pictures of male genitalia, rape and death threats. With our faces glued to the screens; we see women speak up and share their experiences, we believe them too but we let them disappear, just another story to scroll down. Hence, succeeding in trivializing women’s experiences offline and online. A black background profile on Facebook isn’t enough; we all know it will disappear just like our anger. About time we stopped treating or rather choosing a single case of violence against women as an aberration and give it all our outrage and feel satisfied to get back to our lives.

I want to conclude this by asking women to break their silence and demand their right to safety and forever keep fighting the patriarchy which will always keep finding faults with its women. Support each other, listen to each other and stand up against those who threaten and discredit our experiences and tell us how we ought to learn to live with it. The success of #MeToo lies in the collective courage of all the women who decided to break the silence around the abuse they faced in the hands of powerful men, who thought they could forever exploit their vulnerabilities. We all need to learn from this powerful movement. I say make a scene; every time you see someone being harassed help the victim instead of the perpetrator hence, make a ruckus! Why is the dire state of women’s safety not bringing us to the streets demanding civil rights for women? Why is this not treated as a cause for national concern?

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  1. Vijayendra Singh

    We the people of republic of india don’t want any report on how we are,from ancient time our vedas have asked us (pujyantya nari,ramante tatra devta),meaning god live where woman is worshiped,but with influence of western education our morality degraded,which is a serious issue but 600 people can’t make a nonsense report saying that india is the most unsafe country.i am ready to believe that today’s india may be unsafe(which is a serious issue) but don’t unsafe(ST),many countries in central asia,africa,latin america are far more bad than india,so i simply denie to believe this SHIT report,(THOUGHTS ARE PERSONAL AND YOU SHOULD,I WILL’T FEEL GUILTY IF YOU SUPPORT THIS REPORT)

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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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