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Laws Won’t Stop Rapes, Unless We Bring A Change At The Grassroots Level

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Recently, the parliament passed Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018 which prescribes stringent punishment for sexual offenders including the death penalty. It prescribes death penalty for a person who rapes a girl below 12 years. Now, I don’t want to sound cynical but do we really believe that this will stop the rapes in our country? Heck, I thought I wouldn’t hear about rapes after the Nirbhaya incident and the anger and resentment that it garnered towards the rapists. But rapes have only increased after that.

My point is until, and unless we try to bring a change at the grassroots level, problems like these won’t stop. Death penalties might deter a few, but the fanaticism and the mentality behind raping a few-months-old baby won’t’ be changed by laws. Until and unless we try to bring a change in the mentality of the society, where rapes are attributed to the attire of a girl, you can make laws after laws and keep blaming the government, but nothing would change.

Until and unless, we the youth, actually try and bring a change, instead of engaging in debates about how bad the politicians are, nothing would change.

I turned 18 last year and among the things I was most excited about being an ‘adult’, was finally getting the chance to vote. I wanted to vote because I genuinely want my country to change and progress and not be what it is today. I know one single vote which I cast is not going to make any difference, but just imagine, what if all of us just go and vote, that would actually turntables. Imagine, what if all of us, who sit in our comfortable rooms and college canteens and classrooms and debate about how our country is dirty and unsafe for women, and overpopulated and poor, get out and actually try to transform the world around us.

Just think, how many of us, who feel India is one of the dirtiest countries, actually care about cleanliness around us, on roads, in our houses? How many of us who vilify the government and politicians do actually follow all the laws and bring a change. How many of us do actually try to bring a change in the system instead of just sitting and blaming the government relentlessly? I am not supporting the government in any way whatsoever, I am no ‘bhakt’, and I am no ‘congressi’, I am just a simple Indian who wants to see her country change because she loves it. How many of the intellectual uncles who complain about how bad the politics of our country is, actually think about changing something and fighting against the system. Wouldn’t that mean getting out of their comfort zone and actually doing something?

Our comfort zone and middle-class mentality is the biggest hurdle in our progress. Who wants to bear the pain of getting into politics and fighting against what is wrong. Why run campaigns and fight against authorities and make people aware when you can comfortably sit in an AC room and crib. The middle-class mentality wants you to study in a reputed institution, get a government job, get married and settle down. My parents want me to follow this conventional path, like many other parents. They wouldn’t want me to risk my academic career and fight against what is wrong, after all for how long can you fight the system, right? And the system is very resilient too, I don’t think a common person like me will survive solely on ideals and principles in our country’s politics. Without insane amounts of money, and power, I am nobody, no matter what my ideals and values and principles are.

The government has made enough laws for us, but do we actually follow them? Or more importantly, do we even know about them or about the rights we have as the citizens of this nation? We say India is one of the most illiterate countries and the government has passed an immense number of schemes and laws to eradicate illiteracy, but how many of us “know” that we are legally entitled to free primary education? Those who need this right the most, actually don’t know about it.

We can’t keep waiting for our government to put things to action. NO. We have to wake up and spread awareness about our rights and responsibilities. One person fights, then another and then another, this is how revolutions happen, and this is how things change. Do we really want to live in our country where a 4-month-old is raped, or people are lynched because they trade cattle or we fight over building a temple when we have many important issues to deal with? NO. But do we do something about it? NO.

If we don’t do anything, no one will.

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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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