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Claiming Public Spaces in the Urban Peripheries: Women Bearing the Brunt

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It was a simmering hot afternoon in July. I checked with the drivers at the Manglapuri bus stand “Where is the South MCD office?” “Didi, you should take the adjacent route and it is opposite Sagarpur police station”, they guided. I took a cycle rickshaw and reached the MCD office. The men in the office compound stared at me as if I was a strange creature in the ‘men zone’. When I checked for the senior officer’s cabin, they had hundreds of frivolous queries. Finally I managed to meet this officer and informed him the purpose of the meeting. When he sensed that I was a representative of a resident collective and was demanding the collective right to access civic amenities, he answered heatedly that he had no time for this discussion and walked out of the cabin with his bundle of files. Flinging my application on the table, he yelled, “I would have offered her time from my busy schedule if she was seeking some personal support on compassionate grounds as a woman”.

As a resident of this locality since two years, I discerned that civic amenities are denied to the residents of Mahavir Enclave since many years. With 68984 voters from this locality, the residents  are left with false promises by political leaders after each election. The untarred roads were dug for sewer work a year before and this made the condition of roads more deplorable. During the monsoon season, the road turns too slippery with an amalgam of mud and slimy filthy matter overflowing from the open sewages. These seweges are the breeding grounds for mosquitos now. Moreover, the deep pits  become dumping grounds of waste matter accumulated leaving the alarming situation unnoticed to any stranger in the locality.  The long unlit stretches leaves the women and girls unsafe. The cycle rickshaws and e-rickshaws refuse charter to the unlit and deep pit roads and women have to walk down through these stretches from the metro stations. However, the presence of vegetable vendors and presswalas in some lane joints until late evenings makes the female pedestrians feel safe while they commute back from office through these unlit stretches. Women generally make short but  frequent trips for dropping and picking up children, purchase of household items, domestic servants for their work, office going women to board bus or metro from the junction etc. They do not have any pedestrian space due to the encroachment by the builders and  also parking of big vehicles. The speedy motor cyclists neglect the rights of pedestrians in these roads. Female pedestrians are victims to many fatal accidents as they dodge in and out of the traffic and the bad road. The worst hit are the aged and physically challenged women. However, their health concerns are least prioritized in the patriarchal society that we all belong. Female commuters also encounter fear of theft from the homeless families residing under the Mahavir Enclave flyover as they wait at the traffic lights. These homeless families are not  rehabilitated by the government and are exposed to the most unhygienic conditions. The children are out of school and are into street begging as well as robbery. This  spot is prone to trafficking of women and girls as well.

The Government of Delhi has rolled out its Road Safety Policy  since July 2018. Inspite of using environment friendly modes of transport, the needs of women are not seen a priority in the peripheries of the capital. These urban pockets are densely populated as well as congested and should be in the primacy of the government on the provision of civic amenities. Women commute from these outskirts to the offices located Central Delhi. The residents of Mahavir Enclave had made tireless attempts in expressing their concerns to the concerned elected representatives. Every year they are left with a response of fund crunch with the government. If we could get red carpet roads for our Ministers in Central Delhi, why are the rights of the women tax payers residing in the peripheries a least priority? Where is government’s accountability in ensuring safe mobility of women? The poor access to civic amenities are hampering female access to hospitals, banks, drop outs in schools esp during monsoons, forced quitting from jobs by women due to family pressure, participation in the local meetings and family gatherings and moreover the general absence of women on the roads aggravating insecure feeling for women to be in public spaces.

Women deal with  heights of gender insensitivity while claiming public spaces. Duty bearers expect women to be very submissive and to be  attended at their liberty. They might camouflage to be in a ‘protector’s role’, but can never accept women who speak to them in the ‘rights’ language. Though delayed, justice cannot  be denied. The women of this locality embark more wholeheartedly to  voice  this issue without losing hope.

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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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