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Society, Stop Shaming Women For Breastfeeding In Public

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Editor’s Note: This week, Youth Ki Awaaz has launched the campaign #FeedLoveNotStigma to fight off stigma against breastfeeding in public. It’s time to question the status quo, share our stories out loud, and demand safe, clean public spaces for breastfeeding! Scroll till the end to find out how you can join in.

When was the last time you saw a mother breastfeeding her baby in public? Maybe somewhere on a mode of public transport, maybe in a park, a restaurant. Did you notice the way people around her reacted? Some of them may have averted their gaze, some may have covered their kids’ eyes, or their own eyes! Some may have even approached the woman and asked her to leave. This is the reality that so many nursing moms all over the word face, and we just can’t let this fly. Society needs to create safe spaces for women breastfeeding in public, and here are 10 reasons why:

1: A baby’s hunger can’t be determined according to your ‘comfort’.

No. You will not make a baby wait until the mother can ‘escape’ to a secluded place. What is so awkward, uncomfortable, or improper about a mother taking care of her child’s needs?

2: No woman should have to ever have to breastfeed in an unsanitary place.

In her powerful spoken word poem, Hollie McNish talks of how mums have even been forced to go to restroom to feed. Can you imagine eating in such an unsanitary place? YKA users have also shared similar experiences. For instance, young mom Pooja Kochar says she is still expected to ‘hide in a toilet’ to feed her baby.

3: This is an important aspect of our right to occupy spaces equally.

If you still hold the idea that ‘the public’ is a males-only zone, it’s time to join the 21st century. Women are out there, in male-dominated arenas, smoothening them into gender-equal spaces. We all have a right to occupy public spaces, and moms should be able to feed their babies without fear or discrimination.

4: Just because she’s in public doesn’t mean she’s public property.

You know, in the 21st century, people have learnt to stop objectifying women’s bodies. That means that a woman in public is not an object for you to own and control, so mind your own business!

5: Motherhood is not a secret, shameful affair.

We live in a country where goddesses are referred to as mothers, which in turn puts mothers on a pedestal. Hell, this also perpetuates the problematic belief that a woman’s life goal is to have a child. Yet, we wrinkle our noses at the mothers who are, you know, doing what mothers do for their kids.

6: Because breasts aren’t for your entertainment.

All of us have been fed the glossy, photoshopped, billboard-sized lie that women’s bodies exist to be looked at, to be enjoyed, to possess. It’s time to break that now. We need to stop sexualising breasts first, if breastfeeding has to be completely normalised.

7: Breastfeeding is a natural a process – as natural as walking, speaking or breathing in public.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Breastfeeding is a mammalian characteristic. Across species, this is how mothers get their kids healthy and kickin’. It’s something that bodies do. Why single it out and stigmatise it?

Image source: Tareq Salahuddin/Flickr.

8: You’re not a sniggering little 12-year-old. Grow up.

I mean, maybe puberty-ridden kids reading about reproduction for the first time might be caught off guard. But if you’ve moved far ahead from your adolescent years and still think breastfeeding is weird or shameful, then you still have some maturing left to do.

9: Like beauty, shame is in the eye of the beholder.

For so many moms, feeding their child is a beautiful, caring, bonding process. There is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. The person who should be ashamed is the one try to humiliate a nursing mother.

10: The ‘male gaze’ doesn’t get to decide what’s ‘appropriate’ in public.

Women’s bodies aren’t for men (and other prying eyes) to look at, assess, judge, and discard or censor at their convenience! That attitude comes from a magical place called ‘male entitlement’, and it’s about time we destroyed it.

Join the campaign! Throughout this week, we want to hear what you feel. Here’s how:
  1. Answer our polls on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about breastfeeding in public.
  2. Hold up a sign that says #FeedLoveNotStigma and share it on Instagram. Tag @youthkiawaaz, so we can share it ahead.
  3. Login to Youth Ki Awaaz and publish a story on why the stigma around breastfeeding in public needs to be removed!
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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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