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‘The Policy Makers Of India Can No Longer Ignore The Youth’

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“The youth of today are leaders of tomorrow,” – Nelson Mandela

Distinguished members of the Delhi Government and Plan India along with the members of Youth Advisory Panel

“By 2021, India will have the maximum number of youths in the world and we should turn this into an advantage. There is no way that India’s policy makers, people in power can ignore us or not take our suggestions anymore,” proclaimed Neha from Plan India’s Youth Advisory Panel while disseminating the Youth Charter at a conference amidst a roomful of government officials.

Neha’s words echoed in the room and resonated with the young and old present in the room.

As Neha went onto to explain the 10-point recommendation ranging from access to education to elimination of gender bias to combat drop put rates of girls to improving gender ratios in the workforce, it was quite clear that the youth had thought about each of the challenges and had feasible solutions for them.

The recommendations on the charter focus on a participatory approach and urge the youth to be the change themselves. Here, I would like to share an interesting observation. During an interactive session at the charter presentation ceremony, a Youth Advisory Panel member shared that in her village, girls are still discriminated against and was seeking solutions from the august company of government officials. While her query was genuine and the officials present could have easily shared a few steps; the solution came from the youth present in the room. And the sentiment that echoed was, “We youngsters can bring in change, we should not wait for external agencies to extend help, but we ourselves need to be champions and role models in our communities!”

A Youth Advisory Panel member shares the National Youth Charter amidst the august presence of members from the Delhi government and Plan India
A Youth Advisory Panel member shares the National Youth Charter amidst the august presence of members from the Delhi government and Plan India

This observation stunned many of us sporting grey hues of hair, but it made us realise the potential and commitment that youngsters have. All they need is a little nudge towards the right direction.

But this was just the beginning. The open session following the presentation of the charter opened a plethora of insights and actions.

Youngsters clearly aren’t afraid to take a strong step, they have the inclination to work with policymakers to bring positive changes in the society and they want to begin with themselves. When the moderator (a lawyer for child rights) urged the youth to ask tough questions to people in power, quite unhesitantly, a young girl shared her bitter experience with the Delhi Police, and soon it became a debatable matter with the police personnel present admitting that there is huge room for improvement for the ‘men in khaki’ and how the forces are trying to come up with modules which apprised children and youth alike of their rights under the Juvenile Justice Act and how FIR processes function. The personnel quite gratifyingly asked the youth to create a task force that could work with the police to come up with a leaflet highlighting processes and rights, he also invited the group for an exposure visit to their ‘soft skills’ training institute. If this is not a behavioural change, then what is?

Moving on from khaki to those dealing with curriculum, a strong recommendation was to work with the DCPCR (Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act) to audit NCERT books from a gender lens. It was suggested that the Youth Advisory Panel form a task force to gender-audit each of the NCERT textbooks from Class I to Class X and call out the gender bias. The audit would be taken up by DCPCR and would be presented to NCERT for changes.

The Ten point recommendation in the National Youth Charter
The 10-point recommendation in the National Youth Charter.

With this in motion, very soon, we shall see NCERT portraying both men and women in gender neutral roles and responsibilities. The idea is to call out gender bias at an early age and avoid conditioning of young minds through curriculum. This process is already in motion and by September the task force will submit their audit report to DCPCR.

Discussions on DCW’s (Delhi Commission for Women) role towards generating sensitising and awareness among the youth on laws, rights and counselling were held. The youth were invited for an exposure visit to DCW to further understand their operating systems. Gender discrimination was also pointed out by young girls who shared that many doctors judge them for visiting gynaecologists and how to avoid such judgement, they ‘Google symptoms for medication.’ This unhealthy practice turned out to be hugely popular among young girls and genuinely scared each and everyone in the room. The need for gender awareness and sensitisation at a curriculum level was highly emphasised to ensure that doctors are trained to deal each and every patient with respect and maturity.

The recommendations cited in the charter and the concerns shared were collective voices of 181 youths from the length and breadth of the country. The youth have come of age, it is high time we too.

“Bachhe nahi, hum yuva hai!” – a voice strongly echoes in the room.

For further reading about Plan India’s Plan For Every Child Conference

Written by: Debanjana Choudhuri, Manager- Marketing and Communications, Plan India

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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.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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