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Beti Bachao, Roti Banwao: Promoting Misogyny In The Name Of Women Empowerment

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On January 22, 2015, PM Narendra Modi launched the “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” campaign to spread awareness and to improve welfare services and resources that are meant to save and empower girls. India, as a nation along with China and Africa, has a long, sad history of misogyny. Girls are killed either before or after birth. Everyone wants a wife, girlfriend, mother but the idea of raising a daughter is still a matter of pain for many who are harboured by malevolent misogyny.

And, one day while going through my FB feed, I came across this ad painted on a wall in Haryana. This ad shows everything that is wrong in terms of benevolent misogyny propagated within the society. The ad features a young girl making rotis and the title says, “Kaise khaoge unke haath ki rotiya, jab paida hone nahi doge betiyan.” The translation says, “How will you eat rotis made by their hands when you won’t let daughters be born.” Basically, a daughter’s life is worth only for the sake of traditional stereotypical gender roles.

There has been an outrage on Twitter where many called BS. This ad shows everything wrong in terms of “save girl child campaign” and human rights. It shows a little girl making rotis and the vibe we get after seeing the look her face is more of an S.O.S call. A girl of her age should be in school. Also, the picture could also be seen as a depiction of child labour. And it is ludicrous of the ad makers to make such a statement.

Female foeticide and infanticide, while there is a large section headed by the right-wing denying the existence of the same, should be treated as a social issue. Here a specific gender is targeted due to the existence of socially constructed discrimination against it, in this case, women. One of the factors is limiting women’s role as “roti makers” or “paraya dhan” while sons are seen as assets who bring value to a home.

India is a masculine country with almost all states having a skewed gender ratio (except Kerala and Pondicherry). One of the major factors behind the same is the dowry system where a massive amount has to be paid to the groom after which women may (or may not) get the respect she deserves in her marital home. Apart from that, girls leave their parents’ home while sons are expected to look after the parents and ‘carry on the lineage’.

With laws and campaigns backing traditional roles that are otherwise discriminatory against women, is looking after her parents a matter of “social” fight for women?

Are they the only factors? 

How often do we think about women’s participation in social, political, cultural, economic sectors of the country? Even if women do, how often do we talk about the necessity of the same?

There is a quote from a prominent feminist Malayalam movie named How Old Are You (2014) (also remade into Tamil as “36 Vayadhinile”) where the character played by Manju Warrier confronts her sexist husband, for opposing her ambitions, saying, “Out of 14 Prime Ministers only one is a woman. Out of 15 Presidents, only one is a woman. Why? Is it because women are incapable or is it because somebody is bringing an end to her ambitions? Who decides the expiry date of a woman’s dream?” We can apply this in real life as we are living among those who propagate the scenario shown in the ad, limiting a woman’s role as roti makers.

India ranks 20th in terms of representation of women in politics. Apart from an occasional outrage, politicians have done enough damage to women’s safety issues on public platforms. Statistics in 2017 revealed that the percentage of women entrepreneurs in India is less, with just 14%. Only 13% of farmlands are owned by women. And apart from Kerala Nair families, properties went to the sons in the family until 2005 Property Act. In most families, daughter’s “property” is the dowry given to her husband’s family and then her home is her husband’s home, while sons are given father’s property. Majority of school and college dropouts are girls. As per a report in the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights, across India, 39.4% girls aged 15-18 years drop out of school and college, and out of that 65% drop out not to do earning jobs but to do household chores, child-marriage or to engage in begging. Under Hindu Marriage Act 1956, in a majority of places, girl are married before the age of 18. A girl can get the marriage annulled only if she was married off before attaining the age of 15 and she challenges the marriage before turning 18. Muslim personal law is not codified and therefore, child marriage is prominent.

As per data in 2017, the literacy rate among women in only 65% and only 5% have the ability to choose their husbands. In the world ranking, India is at the 120th place when it comes to having women in the working sector, although it excludes women’s role in the agricultural sector. Most women are forced to or expected to leave their jobs after marriage or after giving birth. Women’s right to work or sharing domestic responsibilities is still a matter of both debate and scrutiny in most sections. Art, literacy and pop culture have done enough damage with the objectification of women and with a massive difference between male and female representation. Also, misogyny within the society is real when a mob threatens a woman in real life over a fictional character on the basis of honour. The viewer’s preferences are understood when a scenario which involves the mass suicide of women, to avoid rape, gets more views and lauding as opposed to a woman who saved girls from slavery.

Sexual violence against women and girls is still used as a tool to control and oppress women’s autonomy in the name of safety. How can you expect justice in that field when people’s representative endorses child marriage in the name of “girls’ safety“?

So, to whoever painted that mural ad, it is short of salt water poured over the wounds, which is big and painful if you look at the sex ratio and backing data. If you can’t fight misogyny, the least you could do is not feed it further. Instead, feed hungry girls with not only rotis but with education, motivation and support.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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