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My Headstrong Grandmother Inspired Me To Write And Pursue My Dreams With Passion

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It’s strange how the smallest things can send you back in time.

As a new writer, you often wonder how the world sees your writing. Will people appreciate it? Will they accept it?

For me, it is the smell of peppermints. One of my first memories is of lining up with my cousins in front of my grandmother. At the end of each meal, she would give us a peppermint each, from her “magic” peppermint bag. The bag was magical because it was perennially half full. And no one ever found out how it was replenished.

My grandmother, Jaseemunissa Begum, was the matriarch of the family and unlike most women of her generation she had an opinion on everything; from national politics to her children’s professions. She belonged to a small village in North India but built a life with her husband in Hyderabad state. 

She faced many tough times in her life; partition when most of her family migrated, the riots of 1948 when the Indian government took over from the Nizam, the loss of property, the death of a child but nothing could dampen her zest for life and her indomitable spirit.

At age 60 she went for haj by herself when my grandfather was unable to leave, because she had decided that she would go. She inspired us to be passionate about our dreams and to see any obstacles in our way as hurdles rather than roadblocks. 

I think that may be one of the reasons my professional life is full of so many twists and turns. After studying management I decided to appear for the civil services exam hoping to get a job managing the business of the nation rather than a private company. Alas, I was unsuccessful and following the popular adage ‘those who can: do, those who can’t: teach’, I started coaching students for entrance exams. 

When that became repetitive I switched over to teaching languages, which was much more interesting but something was still missing. A sabbatical from work led me back to my first love – writing.

However, a writer’s life can be very lonely. You spend your day grappling with the characters in your mind who demand to have their stories told but at the end of the day, you are the only person who knows them. So, I decided it was time to channel my inner superhero; I became a teacher by day and a writer by night. I wrote and wrote until I finally found my voice as a writer, and was ready to share my work with the world.

As a new writer, you often wonder how the world sees your writing. Will people appreciate it? Will they accept it? As such you are always on the lookout for a platform, which will allow you to reach a wider audience. 

The SHEROES Anthology Book celebrates 10 stories of  grit and determination 

Another milestone

When I came across the SHEROES #SHEWrites Challenge inviting stories of inspiring women, I knew I had to write about my grandmother.

She came from a generation, which didn’t get an opportunity to fulfill their dreams but made it possible for the coming generations to do so.

The challenge, hosted in the Aspiring Writers community on SHEROES, would culminate in the best stories being published as an anthology by Juggernaut Books.

I set about writing with heart and soul, and when my story was chosen for the SHEROES Anthology Book, I was thrilled beyond words. It was in a sense a validation that people do want to read stories with a strong female protagonist.

We are saints and sinners

It has often bothered me that most women are depicted as saints or sinners. We are both and we are neither because the truth is that like all humans, women too have shades of grey.

The highest accolade for a woman is to either rise above all barriers and become like a man or to completely efface herself for others.

Why must a woman’s life’s worth be determined solely by the people around her and not by herself? And why is marriage seen as the be-all and end-all for every woman?

Over the past few years, I have seen a change in the depiction of women with writing becoming more realistic and nuanced, and that gives me great hope as a writer. My stories are inspired by the people in my life and tend to revolve around female characters.

I feel proud to have had a grandmother like her and grateful that a small story on her life helped me win. When I read the other stories in the anthology I realized it was both an honor and a pleasure to have my mine published alongside such inspiring and varied stories. These are stories, which I feel we can all relate to and yet these are the stories we often forget.

About Asfiya Rahman:

I’m a teacher by occupation and a writer by inclination. I believe that a good story has the power to take you through time and space. I wrote Wild Card, a sports drama in 2016 and published short stories in various different anthologies. In 2018, my story was published as part of the first edition of the SHEROES Anthology Book. I’m also a travel enthusiast and a voracious reader.

                        SHEROES Communities for women are accessible via Sheroes.com and the SHEROES app
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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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