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UNIVERSAL ADULT FRANCHISE- THE BEDROCK OF DEMOCRACY:

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Every year, many students like me turn 18 and cast their vote on the Election Day, fulfilling the most basic action in a democratic society. Voting is a fundamental process that keeps our system of government working. Through elections, citizens have the ability to decide on who represents them in the government, be it a local official, a state or national minister, or the Prime Minister.

On the election day, voters get the chance to not only select their representatives in the government for the next term, but they also often have the ability to decide on measures like bond issues that grant the government permission to borrow money for construction projects and other developments in the country. And sometimes voters cast their votes on social issues such as banning smoking in restaurants and bars, etc.

Hence, it is the responsibility and duty of every citizen of age 18 or above to vote, as it is their voice, with many others, in unison, that can change the direction of a community, state, nation, and even the world! With a government elected by it’s citizens and that effects every aspect of our lives from schools to health care, voting is an important right in our society. By voting citizens are making their voice heard and registering their opinions on how they think the government should operate, and in such a diverse country like ours, I’m sure that people would have many different opinions on how the government should function. Given the importance of elections in our country India, I wonder why do so many people choose not to vote? Why do some refuse to participate in the elections, when the ministers and issues voted on have such a strong influence on nearly every aspect of their lives?

There are numerous reasons, some feel that in a country so populous, their vote doesn’t really count and doesn’t make any difference. However, the balance tilts when this becomes a national attitude and lakhs- perhaps crores- of voters are not cast. By casting their vote, citizens may not necessarily be able to get the best candidate elected- politics being what it is- but by avoiding casting their vote, they improve the chances of unsuitable ones winning the polls. At the end, it is only the voter who has to suffer through poor governance.

There have also been many instances in history where everything came down to that ONE VOTE! For instance, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had lost the no- confidence motion and his Prime Ministership in the parliament by a single vote, but interestingly it didn’t discourage him to make a dramatic return as the Prime Minister within a few months! Some people also say that they don’t know enough about the issues going on in the country and think they shouldn’t vote, but I consider that as a silly excuse. Who doesn’t know what’s going on in the country currently? It just takes a short glimpse of the newspaper or a news channel to know what all is going on in our country..

The citizens should understand that the whole edifice of the Indian Democracy is built on the foundation of voting. If citizens aren’t careful about casting their vote- or worse, skip their vote altogether- it will jeopardize the existence of our democratic Republic. I believe that voting is an honor conferred on the citizens by the founding fathers. By exercising their right to vote, citizens demonstrate their respect for the history of the country. As I stated before, Voting is the voice of the citizens and they should understand it. Voting offers every citizen a medium of expression. In a country as vast and diverse as ours, different regions have different concerns and priorities.

The process of voting allows every citizen to have a say in what should constitute the matters of importance by voting for the candidate, he or she deems fir for the purpose. While it is true that the outcome of elections is seldom predictable, by not casting one’s vote, the citizen is giving up on the chance of getting heard. People should understand that voting is like farming. Wouldn’t it be catastrophic if nobody farmed? The same applies to voting. In a democracy, elections are the biggest opportunity to bring about changes, and VOTE is the biggest weapon for this change, and we are lucky to have a democracy in our country in which every adult no matter what religion, gender, race, etc they belong to, have a right to cast their vote. Voting is not only our “right” but also our responsibility as a citizen of our country and we must fulfill this responsibility with uttermost seriousness. We all must caste our vote and must also inspire others to cast their votes because this is the strongest weapon in our hands with the help of which we can solve our problems and can bring great revolution in the country! Also, those who don’t fulfill their responsibility towards the country, have no right to ask for their “rights”. I would like to quote John F Kennedy here: “Ask not what the country has done for you. Ask what you have done for the country”. So, if we can’t do anything else for our country, let’s at least caste our vote with responsibility and unite to bring positive changes in our life and to make our own future better!

 

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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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