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Women Need To Stick Together And Empower Each Other

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In a patriarchal country like India, we rarely get to see such “odd” combinations like man-shame, man-manners, man-boundations, or man-kitchen.

I had read about the real story of padman (Arunachalam Muruganantham) at the beginning of 2016. Somehow I had anticipated the arrival of a movie on it. And am glad, it happened.

Akshay Kumar’s movies automatically take me to the theatres. But watching padman was a completely different feeling for me. It was like facing the most untalked and dense reality of our life on such a big screen.

Things were much easier for me, growing up. I have always been around progressive women in my family. And I emphasised on women because I believe a girl being around empowering women doesn’t need a man to lift her up.

Men see our struggles, understand those and then stand along with us. Amidst this, the taboos of society make it harder than it’s shown in the movie.

But if a woman comes out for a change, she won’t have to go through the first two procedures. Because we all know how it feels to be a woman.

From my school life to the college, I have been with a few amazing girls. I remember the times when I was careless about my state of being and watching my friends taking care of themselves couldn’t even come as a lesson to me. Because few things were really out of my control. I think we all are different and we have our ways to deal with certain problems. We take time and learn to tackle. And then, one fine day we master it like we had never failed. But I think, one of the few things that I never see myself mastering is my menstruation phase.

From the very beginning, my menstrual days used to be those days when I wished, I was dead. Then and there, I made my real best friends. And those were the ones getting along with me to restrooms, teaching me how to handle leakages, and then, at last, handling me. I wish I could go and thank each of them. These small gestures are the fundamentals of women empowerment.

I won’t bring men to my subjects. Not because I don’t count them as someone to understand women but because I think if you are stepping out and asking the world to change, why not begin the charity at your home first. So my focus is on the women. Not on just women, but the perfect ones. I got this idea of perfection when I encountered women who talk about women empowerment on social media, claim to be feminist and then end up judging the very next woman sitting next to them. They can mortify the other woman and make her want to kill herself out of disgust. And the reason would be just general fun.

You must be thinking about one of your incidents. I will tell you mine.. but in a free verse poetic way..

It’s my interview day in a MNC….

Yes my pad is soaked in red

My pant might get stains

and cross when

I sit on that couch

Which is oh so not red.. or black..

Or dark enough to

Soak up the blood

I’ve shed..

Terrified I’m

It’s already late

“I’m so disgusting ”

I curse

10 years since it started

120 cycles

8640 hours of cramps

1800 sanitary pads

All wrapped in hours of shame..

And plus 11520 hours of

How to keep it concealed …

And yet now,

Am messy and gump,

Oh please !! That’s nothing !

My mother at this age

Had me in her womb..!

The clock strikes 12

My turn is the next..

They have interviewd the rest..

File in my hand has

The experiences , they need

The qualifications, they ask

The answers , they must admire

The degree, they seek

So I stand, poised

Pretending nothing makes me weak

As I walk by,

Something behind holds me back..

Oh no!!

It’s not a friendly cheer

Or an advice

To handle the sitch

But instead

There are laughters

And mumbles

And that’s where it starts

My first step to glitch

I can hear those giggles

Too feminine to believe

the words being said

Sneering at my stained pants

I’m so disgusting

I curse again

“Oh,you damn woman !!

Perfect you had to be. ”

This needed to have a nice end, but things turned out to be so mortifying and disappointing that I don’t want to put a bad example here. I went home with a pulled face and an unattended interview. I failed myself at the point when I put my self-esteem down believing in the words I heard.

Since then, I haven’t let myself down due to the words and actions of others. This is the worst thing we do with ourselves. I had never thought, I would be able to write that incident in words. I carry a message that I can pass to every woman out there. Be it the ones who are just experiencing the changes or the ones who are going through various other changes along with this mandatory cycle. The message is loud and clear.
Appreciate your body type, skin tone and the changes you are experiencing. Your flaws are okay. They are as natural as you are.
That pad gets displaced, and when it needs to be adjusted or replaced, it’s alright to stand in the middle of the class and ask to go out. The looks on their face should not stop you.

Stains are okay. Treat them like other stains. Wash them. Don’t get ridiculed, or ridicule yourself !

You might have heard of the period gang in friends. Friends who tend to have their cycle around the same date. It’s really interesting. Through this data, we get to know that in an area of around 60 to 70 girls around 15 girls are having their periods around the same time. A little more or less, but the cramps, the mood swings and small malfunctions go along too. With this massive unit of women going through the same functional cycle every month, and having the experiences of how things are, why can’t we be more supportive to each other.
We often are found blaming men for not understanding our struggles during periods. We are fighting against chauvinism and patriarchy for a very long time. Actually, it got too intense that the word “feminist” has now become a social abuse.
It’s high time, we, women started asking each other to behave well. We sometimes are incredibly mean to each other, and that is pathetic.
Let’s appreciate each other. Let’s empower each other. Let’s teach each other what we learned way too late. Let’s make it much easier for each other what made us fall.

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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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