This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Prakshi Saha. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How I Became An Intersectional Feminist Activist At 15

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By Prakshi Saha:

When YKA asked me to write a personal story, I wasn’t at all sure whether I was capable of even doing it. I asked them, “Do you think people would want to read about my story?” Their instant affirmation made me realise people have a great deal of faith in my work, more than I had expected.

In the face of injustice, your act of speaking up is as political as remaining quiet. Someone told me this a while ago. It precisely sums up why all of it started.

Growing up wasn’t all that bad for me. While my father wanted me to become a bureaucrat and my mother wanted me to be a doctor, I was always taught to become self-sufficient, independent and ambitious. Never once were marriage or domestic chores or stereotyped behaviour patterns drilled into my head. I was never brought up in a way that was any different from my brother. I have been so fortunate to get such a familial environment while growing up. But that also made me realise, being in a state of privilege, it is of a greater significance to speak up for the ones who aren’t in the right state of conditions, for the ones who can’t find that voice inside their head that asks them to break away from their unjust circumstances.

I have always been a very sensitive person. I am not sure my 11-year-old self exactly understood what rape meant but I cried constantly for two hours straight, on hearing that detailed description of brutality of the 2012 Delhi gang rape. The chaos of thoughts in my head at that instant cannot be expressed in words. That was the first time I realised if an injustice happened somewhere far away from the set of situations I was cushioned around, I felt that pang of helplessness in my heart.

Two people hold posters during protests after the Delhi gang rape in 2012.

As days and years passed by, it seemed that the number of such dreadful instances in every corner of my country multiplied. I knew that just sitting back and watching was not something I could afford to do. Rohtak, Assam, Kerala, Mumbai, Jammu, Bengal; the names and locations changed, but the description of the brutality was the same. Their faces looked alike. Then, slowly it wasn’t them anymore. It became us. As I stepped into my teens, I started recognising my vulnerabilities. At every instant, the thought rang in my head, what if it was me? That is exactly what women of this country go through. There isn’t an ounce of exaggeration in that. It’s shameful for us, as a country, that we failed half of our population.

One thing that disturbed me a lot was the unapologetic and proud attitude of men in power. Not only men in power, every other aunty in my neighbouhood or that old man in the bus stop who says, “Was she drunk? What was she wearing? Oh, she was partying with men late at night!” It was the culture of victim blaming and shaming and normalising violence against women that was more dangerous than the crime itself. That was providing incentive for continuance and manifold increase in the numbers. All of it was piling up in my head. With each passing day I was constantly looking for a medium to vent through, apart from ranting about feminism with my friends over tea. I was looking for a way to channel my thoughts in a way that was productive for others.

It started with an Instagram page, opened just the day Trump took over office. I was so disgusted with the idea of incentivising and glorifying sheer sexism. I absolutely had no idea that that day’s random decision would lead to something so significant in my life. The best thing that happened was to be able to connect to people across the globe. Ecuador, Washington, Poland, Geneva, Australia, Mumbai, Delhi, Udaipur, I have got tons of stories from people across all these places. Stories that connected me to them. Religious, cultural, or geographic, none of the differences even mattered. The stories of our fights and battles and our dreams and aspirations were so alike, yet different from one another. So, I decided to start my blog to tell such stories. Each of their stories would inspire me, and I thought there are so many others who deserve to be inspired that way too.

I started off with women’s rights as my sole agenda but it is because of the wonderful conversations I had with so many beautiful people that I slowly became a queer rights advocate as well. This blog has not only been a medium of educating others and spreading awareness. It has been a constant process of growing for me, for educating myself. I have studied and learned so much about trans-sexuality, gender fluidity, intersectionality in feminism, things that are still not ‘mainstream’. I got to hear personal stories of the fights and challenges of people. That made me understand things so much better and I became mentally and emotionally attached to the agenda I’m working on.
Through my page, I have also raised a sustained digital advocacy campaign against taxation of sanitary napkins, and one called #NotAskingForIt, against bodyshaming among others.

Because my blog has quite a high viewership from outside India, I try to talk about things with a broader or global outlook. That is why I started writing on Youth Ki Awaaz for the stories that were particularly significant for the country’s perspective.

The person who has had the greatest influence on my work is She Says’ founder Trisha Shetty. Trisha’s organisation and their work has been my greatest source of inspiration. It was a great experience to work as the Gender Advocacy Hero with her UN-accredited non profit women’s rights organisation, receiving training on conducting gender sensitisation workshops. I still remember that the work criteria had an age bracket, which I obviously didn’t fit into. I had quite casually filled in the application form and submitted it. After a two step process, which involved a personal interview over the phone with the organisation’s Gender Advocacy Lead heading the Program, I realised I was one of the only two people who got selected from Calcutta. I was slightly overwhelmed back then. Right now, I feel humbled and fortunate to have got to experience that.

Then, I wrote to Postcards For Peace (PFP) for their Ambassadorship application. PFP is a UK-registered charity foundation and peace organisation that works to eliminate injustice, discrimination, and hate, in order to spread peace. They operate in every continent through their ambassadors. Then, I became their Global Goodwill Ambassador from India. The 1.5 year old activism and advocacy of my 17-year-old self isn’t a tale of great things. It is a tale of tiny efforts and great dreams and a lot of hope. I have got a long, long way ahead. But this is to remind all of you that I started my activism at 15, coming from the most favourable of familial circumstances.

I didn’t have a story of struggle to tell the world. But I tried to be a medium for the stories of countless others. Something crazy or sudden or drastic doesn’t have to lead you to start your big revolution. The smallest efforts count the most. It is important for young people to realise that every moment, while you are being reluctant or ignorant, there’s somebody facing injustice out there. So, the least we could do is speak up and put in efforts in whichever way possible.

I’ll end with one of my favourite quotes by Audre Lord, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.

Featured image courtesy of the author.
You must be to comment.
  1. Rajas Salpekar

    Hello prakshi, I’m 17 and well I found your Story to be damn interesting and very encouraging! Moreover I find no reason why one should feel this story wouldn’t engage people!

    1. Gender Justice

      Thank you so much. If you found my story encouraging, that means a lot to me. That serves the purpose of my advocacy. 🙂

  2. Bonita Rajpurohit

    This is so inspirational and breaks the stereotypes that are associated with age! Some people are literally born woke & young…
    I’m so proud to call you my friend ❤️

    1. Gender Justice

      Bonitaaaaa, my love. I don’t think I ll be able to thank you enough. You inspire me so very much. It’s people like you who have inspired me to do the work I do. I m even prouder to call you my friend. Hugs and kisses ❤️??

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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