What’s Keeping Students From Taking Up Internships? Sexual Harassment.

As a student looking to widen the scope of learning experiences, I have been taking up many internships. While it comes with many perks, there have been several incidents that have made me feel uncomfortable. ‘Casual’ harassment during the internship period is one of them. When we sign up for full-time internships, we are always filled with doubts about the location of the workplace and security concerns mostly. I remember when I was made to feel uncomfortable by my employer, and how my safety concern weighed down my level of enthusiasm to engage in the project. It was a really good government internship, but I decided to back out. I certainly know that I suffered a disadvantage, but I am sure there are countless similar narratives out there.

For students like us, who are in college and looking for opportunities in the form of internships to broaden their scope of experiences, harassment or sexual harassment can become a deterrent. For women, the situation weighs them down more heavily. When the workplace for them becomes an uncomfortable space or any of the activities required by the internship that creates a vulnerable space for us, we decide to opt out. This also means we end up giving up on opportunities that could have facilitated our career orientation or interests. So many women have gone through this, and have been facing the same, but they often choose to not bring this up because they think the internship is only for a short duration. This somehow normalises the concept of how interns could be immediate but easy targets of harassment by their employers.

It also appears as if interns do not have much security when it comes to protection against harassment, and most interns would be afraid to stand to report it for fear of ruining their career by throwing away an internship they worked so hard to get. This also means sustaining with constant fear and anguish over your decision to compromise on the feeling of your personal space being attacked. Predators think it’s easy to target interns because students are already in vulnerable positions and are unlikely to report such incidents.

The Vishaka Guidelines against Sexual Harassment at Workplace does not lay guidelines for harassment faced by students during their internships. A draft that was called the NUJS Policy on Protection of Students from Sexual Harassment during Internships had been prepared in 2014. But apart from that there has been no mechanism to check the excesses of any form faced by interns during paid or unpaid internships.

So many of my friends have been made to feel uncomfortable at their respective workplaces. The university callously shifts the responsibility if the internship has been arranged by the students themselves. There is also a need to consider the fact that many students are not aware of what should be done when faced with difficult situations like these. While some of the others face intimidation because of the positions these employers hold and are held by several other constraints. There are so many narratives and perspectives to hear from girls in my college. Here’s my story:

Over the summer, I had got through a paid internship opportunity with a government organization, and the project was supposedly being handled by a political figure. I had a few queries regarding the verification of my documents. When I called him, he asked me to send my details on Whatsapp. After a while, I felt that the conversation went along a different rhythm. Here is the screenshot of the message that he sent me that made me feel uncomfortable and disgusted.

Although it was a work-from-home internship, to work with him clearly made me feel uncomfortable and I was to meet him the next day. Hence, I decided to withdraw. I discussed this with my friends and the major problem that lied here was my dilemma to compare this discomfort with harassment. Hence, I did not report this. However, it is imperative to understand that employers might think it’s casual to just hit on you, but the level of discomfort this renders makes us frustrated and angry with the system.

There are so many questions associated with the incident. First of all, if challenging the discomfort created by these powerful men will at all yield a follow-up? Second, students become extremely wary of reporting since they are scared of how it may impact their prospects, and hence have the potential to adversely affect their career. This feeling may vary with respect to class and caste differences but those from marginalized communities face the brunt more. Third, how long do we have to compromise on our careers when a broader mechanism should be put in place to check and counter any form of harassment taking place.

There is an immediate and pressing need for gender sensitization workshops to be conducted to train employers to question how they treat students/interns. They should also be sensitized around how to draw a line when they’re interacting with interns, and understanding how a certain move can make someone uncomfortable. More importantly, there is a need to start conversations around such cases to challenge the callous normalization of harassment against students at their respective workplaces.

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The image has been used for representation only.
Image source: Rasmus Lerfdorf/Flickr
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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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