Now Is The Time Women’s Reservation Bill Is Needed More Than Ever

Kal tak paiso ke liye TV par thumke lagati thi. Aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi” (You used to dance on TV for money, and now you’ve become an election expert).

Sanjay Nirupam passed this remark for Member of Parliament Smriti Irani in a news debate broadcasted on national television. Sanjay Nirupam is not the only member of parliament or legislative assemblies to have dared use derogatory remarks for a woman when he fell out of dissing arguments. Mr. Narendra Modi, the head of the Union Government called Sunanda Pushkar a ’50 crore girlfriend’, in an attempt to mock Mr. Shashi Tharoor. Whatever the situation may be, it does not suit well for the head of the government of a country ranked first in a list of unsafe countries for women to mock any women with a slanderous comment, especially when he does a ‘crying show’ in his speeches while sympathising with rape survivors.

At a time when the country is going through a bottleneck and a flood of issues have been raised in the society to deflect our attention from the ongoing communal hostility, now is the time when real issues like The Constitution Bill or the Women’s Reservation Bill is needed more than ever. Earlier the bill was introduced by the UPA government, but it never made it through Lok Sabha, and the bill lapsed.

In a 2017 report by Inter-Parliamentary Union and United Nations Women, India ranked at 148th in the representation of women in government. As a country taking pride in its economic growth and democratic environment, it’s high time that we start taking the issue of women representation in the parliament seriously. In a country that is under the burden of a past filled with sexism and toxic patriarchy, just 64 members in a 542 member strong Lok Sabha is something that the state should be worried about.

A recent study on local panchayats, which have the provision for women reservations, showed that the panchayats with a female sarpanch performed much better when it came to drinking water issues. It is true that many women sarpanch end up being a puppet in their husbands’ hands and never actually take decisions themselves, but we have to understand that this is a direct result of the deep-rooted patriarchy in our society and it should always be counted as a false negative of a law and never as a direct disadvantage. We must realise that if the representation escalates to a national level, then the puppeteering becomes a bit difficult and is susceptible to public scrutiny.

Hence, it should seem logical that more is the representation of women in the parliament, higher will be the acceptance of the society to see women leaders in the same light as we look at the men who have maintained their monopoly over Indian politics. India is far below the world in average women representation and as a country that is seen potentially as a developed nation, if we do not take care of representation of the different sections and aspects of our society that form our diverse culture, then we are failing at the idea of what India should represent.

The fifteenth Loksabha has the highest percentage of women MPs, and it is still 11.8 %. Thus, we must understand that the political parties have only used the reservations as an electoral device to gain votes. At present there are seven women out of 51 members in INC working committee, 18 out of 88 members in Communist Party of Indian (Marxist) and just eight women out of 95 executive members in the largest party of the world, BJP.

It should be evident that it does not matter whether the ruling party had the reservation bill and still never introduced despite having opposition support or the opposition party who itself does not have enough women representation in its working committee, tried to gain public attention through a letter to the government. The political parties have always used reservations as a device that gets them to vote among the divided Indian society and they will continue to do so unless there is a frequent public check on the opposition and the government.

It must be clear that reservation is not a means to solve economic disparity but a social one and it doesn’t matter whether a woman belongs to the upper class or a socially and economically backward class, sexism is always on the menu card. Reservation for women in the parliament will and must only serve as an entry facility for representation. Past the entry point, it must lie in the hands of the voter to choose whom he or she wants to vote in favour of. The argument that women in parliament are not active is as stupid as it can get. First of all, if 4 out of 10 women do not speak up and 90 out of 100 men do speak on any topic in discussion, it is not wise to conclude that answers in a statement along the lines of inactiveness of women parliament members.

A UNDP report on Corruption, Accountability and Gender: Understanding the Connections, implied that leadership by women leads to less corruption. When we have examples of Nirmala Sitaraman and Sushma Swaraj holding critical ministries, it must not lead to a conclusion that women are well represented but instead to a fact that being a woman does not affect your capability as a lawmaker. The chances are that it might be a bit beneficial for a body to have more than just 11.8 % of women when it is passing laws on issues related to women and social structure.

It is the responsibility of an honest citizen to demand a democratic representation of Indian society when it comes to law-making. Just because political parties use it as a device to gain votes, we should not ignore the actual need and importance of the issue. Being part of the largest democracy in the world, it becomes our moral responsibility to question those whom we have elected for our social upliftment. In a time when we have the likes of Gurmehar Kaur, Shehla Rashid, Kavita Krishnan, Karuna Nundy and many more social change makers who are actively contributing to the society, it is high time that this empowerment also gets reflected in an assembly that we choose to safeguard our society and bring social change in our nation.

 

(This is first of the many articles that I’ll be writing in the issues that I view of the importance to the Indian society and politics.)

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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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