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My Father Has Shown Me What It Means To Be A True Feminist

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The term ‘feminism’ has gained momentum in recent years. People are opening up their eyes to understand how the disparity between the two sexes has been so vast and yet unacknowledged for decades. Being a woman myself, I am still learning what it means to be a feminist and to put myself above the sexist norms that have been prevalent in our society. I am not here to talk about me though; I’m here to mention a person who raised me to believe that I am no less than any other man and that my talent, skills, and knowledge is what it takes to succeed in this world. This person is my friend, my mentor, my crying shoulder, my pillar of strength and just someone I am so thankful to call ‘my father.’ My father is a handsome, almost 60-year-old ex-army hunk I love showing off to my friends as the coolest dad ever. He combines wit, strength, compassion, and confidence so effortlessly that I’m still in awe of him in my 24 years of being.

Growing up, I was what most people call a complete tomboy, playing video games, watching WWE, injuring myself while playing sports. I’m not being sexist and saying girls don’t enjoy those things but in the ’90s, most of my girlfriends grew up mostly enjoying dolls and dress up more than I did. I still remember my childhood days where if I were to ever go on school picnics, my dad always made me recite his instructions, “Always stay in a group, if anyone behaves inappropriately then do not keep quiet – ALWAYS SCREAM,” he made sure it was ingrained in my mind that if any person was behaving indecently, I must yell to catch everyone’s attention. This somehow instilled a sense of confidence in me where I was never reluctant to speak up or raise my voice if I saw any wrongdoing, either with me or with anyone else.

Sharing your childhood with an elder brother is a different ballgame all together. It may sound clichéd but every brother-sister household has constant bickering, ego battles and parents being emotionally blackmailed to take sides. In the fights I had with my brother, my mother would usually tell me to keep quiet because I was younger and smarter (yeah she was tactful). It was in those times, that my knight and shining armour (aka my dad) would always explain to me that it does not make you a bigger/lesser person to take the back seat in an argument but if something was being said or done, that I would feel was morally wrong, then I must not back down. Sure, his teachings led me to be a little bit of a rebel who would say anything on her mind, but never anything that was distasteful.

My dad’s advice was the same for both the kids irrespective of our genders. If my brother could party then I could too, if my brother could drink then I could, if I brother could smoke then I could (not that he gave permission or would ever want me to), but the basic premise of what he said meant that anything a man could do should not be wrong for a woman to do. His advice was pretty black and white –  what is right is right for all genders and what is wrong is wrong for everyone. There is no ‘grey’ to it. I had an amazing school life and an even better college life because I was never barred from night outs, partying, travelling.

I understood the essence of feminism even before I knew what it meant. I was allowed to question societal norms if I did not understand them. I sure got into trouble many times for questioning traditions. Asking, why the son of the house gets to represent the family at pooja’s and not the daughters or why during my periods was I not allowed to attend religious functions or why was it a crime if I ever raised my voice at the dinner table but my brother got away with even cuss words. I know these questions are not the most comfortable for our parents to answer and the most common reply is “this is how things have always been and you can’t go around questioning everything”, but to these questions my father would reply, “You are an individual independent beliefs and if you should be empathetic to others beliefs, but question the ones that clash with yours, then you have all the right to question them in a respectful manner.” 

My father has shown me what it means to be a true feminist without being a woman. I have seen the pain and anguish in his eyes when he witness’s women not being given the opportunities that men do. Feminism is not about one gender being superior, it’s about all genders being treated equally. I have heard so many statements thrown frivolously like “Once the girl gets married she’s not technically a part of the family”, “A woman must sacrifice and comprise to keep the marriage happy”, “Women should get married before their 30’s or it’s too late” or the best one “A man can get married to a girl 20 years younger but if a woman marries a guy who’s even a year or two younger then it’s a complete mayhem”. But all that I have ever heard from my dad’s mouth was that he will be the happiest if I stayed with him forever, I can marry whoever I love, if someone was to mistreat me in a relationship/marriage I must not hesitate to walk out to save my self-respect and lastly, that whatever happens, he is always there for me no matter what.

I can go on and on writing about how my father moulded me into the confident, opinionated and strong individual I am today. I pray every daughter gets the love and support of a father who treats his daughter not as a princess but like a deserving queen who can conquer and achieve wherever she might be and pave her own way in this tangled world.

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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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