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Women Need To Raise Their Voices For Each Other, Especially In Public Spaces

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Often, I have asked myself, “why don’t we women raise our voices in support of each other?” We openly discuss the #MeToo movement, we debate over why one should be a #Feminist, we vehemently condemn the “Harvey Weinsteins'” lurking in every industry all over the globe. With that being said, I still find my contemporaries are mute when it comes to acts of perversion being committed against women around them.

I can’t help but find their silence deafening. Is it an act of cowardice? Or, have we become so nonchalant to another woman’s plight that we don’t care enough to raise our voice? Despite the advent of artificial intelligence, the birth of Gen Z, dominance of social media and the outcry for justice among many other things; it seems we are far less evolved than what we express ourselves to be. We live in conflicting times where each situation could very well turn into a series of paradoxes. But should we allow that to stop us from supporting each other?

I was travelling by bus the other day. It was crowded as usual due to peak office hours. Everyone was in a confused state of rush due to the monsoon rain. I got on board and stood behind the driver’s seat. I was lucky to get that space, it was more comfortable than having to wade past irate passengers to get to the back of the bus. A schoolgirl had also got in with me and she stood near the first row seats right next to the door. She was carrying this humongous schoolbag and on one hand, a wet umbrella.

Within a few more seconds, the bus got packed to the brim, and we started the arduous journey. For some reason, the schoolgirl had caught my attention. I kept looking at her blankly, reminiscing about my school days and then I noticed how a middle-aged man with a small leather bag was pressing himself against her from behind. At first, I thought nothing of it. In a crowded bus with lack of available space, it is common to find oneself standing too close for comfort. The girl was unable to manage the schoolbag. She took off her bag and wore it from the front. I was observing her, feeling almost sorry for her and I noticed this man pressing himself against her. There was something off about his body language. He didn’t look too relaxed. He kept shifting pace and used the slightest of nudges to fall over the girl. I sensed a feeling of discomfort.

The girl tried signalling him to move aside but to no avail. There was a young woman seated, and although she understood the old and familiar trick, she chose to remain oblivious. What angered me further was that the woman asked the girl to push back, she didn’t want the drenched umbrella of the schoolgirl to wet her feet. Feeling helpless, the girl did not know what to do. This continued and I, too, selfishly retreated to my dreamy state of mind. After a few minutes, a commotion was heard, and I found the schoolgirl engaged in a heated argument with the middle-aged man. He kept threatening to slap her if she did not stop complaining and everyone in the bus was a silent spectator. Not a single person tried to diffuse the situation nor did they rebuke the man for speaking violently to the girl.

The bus conductor was amused by the incident. In fact, he told the girl how her schoolbag was causing discomfort to other passengers. The girl was almost in tears, and that is when I felt anger. By this time, the bus was less crowded, and the man openly continued to behave indecently with her, knowing that not one person would revolt or raise an objection. I moved forward and pulled the girl by her hand, beckoned her to come and stand beside me.

She was confused at first, but I smiled gently at her and asked her to come and join me. I looked at this sad excuse of a man and told him to make way for her. He grumbled, and that’s when I fought. Without mincing my words, I told him exactly what was needed to be told. There was anger in my voice, but I was firm with my words. I looked at the woman seated in the front seat, and I asked her why she could not offer to help the girl with her bag. She had nothing to say. Again, not one passenger on the bus echoed my words nor supported me even though it was clear what the outburst was about. The schoolgirl felt safe standing beside me, and she whispered: “thank you, Didi”. I smiled at her and told her not to worry and offered to carry her schoolbag. The man feeling outraged and embarrassed quickly disembarked from the bus. He knew he was wrong and could no longer sustain the argument with me.

While incidents such as these are common in every metro, I can’t help but wonder why we women shy away from helping each other. Do we not realise that if we stand in solidarity, we make it easier for us to survive in this harsh world? The lady mentioned in the story was more concerned with the rainwater making her feet wet than bother about how the schoolgirl, merely a teenager, was being violated in broad daylight. Have we become immune to each other’s distress? We women must fight for each other for only when we raise our voice in support of our own, do we stand strong.

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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.

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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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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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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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