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Dear Indian Men, It’s About Time We Introspect How Our Actions Affect Those Around Us

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The past few weeks have been a welcome change for India. Finally, Indian women are coming forward against a bulwark of social stigma and voicing out their experiences which were muffled and hushed for a long time.

India is a myriad of contradictions, Bharat Mata, Ganga, Yamuna, Kaveri, Narmada, along with many goddesses and local deities – form the archetypal identity that still resonates today in our nation. For a male-dominated and highly patriarchal nation like ours, it is poignant how these female names and motifs are just placeholders. Centuries of structural discrimination, regressive thinking and the lack of any real agency or accessible education has sidelined the women of our country. Their identity is always seen through a myopic paradigm where they are “someone’s mother”, “someone’s sister” or “someone’s wife” – instead of an individual who is equal in the social strata.

Things looked to change as the new millennium dawned. India wanted to be more equitable and sought to provide proper socio-economic reparations to women. Be it through self-help groups, push for an increase in literacy or trying to change mindsets at the grassroots level; India has been striving hard to bring about some change.

A change which is set against a backdrop where female infanticide rate is still staggering.

Women are still not widespread in the echelons of the corporate world in this country. For a society where political leviathans form the vanguard which protects sexual predators and leaders who respond by cultural policing and shaming the victim categorically, we are in no way a paragon of equity. A society where instead of teaching men to be respectful it is somehow expected of the women to put up with everyday misogyny, catcalls, lewd advances and lecherous looks in public spaces – all while managing the home, cooking the best meal imaginable and looking flawless effortlessly. This sort of skewed and unrealistic expectations thrust on females by the Indian society is regrettable.

It becomes problematic when a woman goes through all this (every day) and is not supposed to voice out her grievances. When a woman who already has the odds stacked against her in the status quo gets molested or assaulted by men in positions of power, parts of our callous society collectively shout “Wo sab theek hain, par proof kahan hai?”

These incidents are traumatic for the survivors to say the least. It quickly changes the worldview and causes severe trust issues and constant fear in the victim, When a woman who is genuinely harmed goes out and narrates her tale – she is dismissed as an attention seeker and media and the masses gaslight the veracity of her tale.

A question which pops up regularly is “Why did they take so many years to report it?”. To answer that we need to understand the psyche of the victims, these victims:

1) Don’t want to face social backlash as it might harm their careers.
2) Might have perpetrators in extremely high positions of power.
3) Might have a fear of not being trusted by society.
4) Might blame themselves for the incident.

When all of this constantly runs in a mind which faces society every day, it becomes tough – mentally and physically. To live with someone else’s mistake and not have some form of legal retribution while the Janus-faced perpetrator is still out free in a position of power and celebrated by people, is stressful.

What this is sadly causing is this mania that “Men are Not Safe”. Men fear that they will have false cases against them; oddly Men’s Right Activists (MRAs) have suddenly erupted, and are seeking to defend the chastity of these paragons of virtue who would later whistle at a female in a bus stop and call her “maal”. Surely, something is wrong, how can the Indian men be at fault?

Dear Indian Men,

What we need to do today is introspect. Introspect at how our actions affect those around us. If you have even an iota of social consciousness and empathy, instead of making fun of this movement or vilifying it – try to focus on the alarming problem: How to make a conducive and safe environment at work, college or public spaces.
Not harassing, groping or molesting a women does not make you a “good person”. It just makes you a normal person; the sort that should be the default etiquette. Things can and should change from childhood – where boys need to be taught to respect women and their space. In teenage make them understand what affirmative sexual consent is and how it is dynamic, to make them aware and empathise with the problems faced by the ‘Bharatiya Nari” –  instead of pushing gender roles that men have to be dominant or aggressive.

These are not changes that will take place in a day or two. Religious dogmas, gaudy movies and incessant fear mongering will undoubtedly prove to be challenging, but to strive for an equitable society is necessary – where people breathe a sigh of relief when they are out in the open and where they are not given provocative looks, and everyone’s voice is heard and counted.

Feminism isn’t a zero-sum game of Male vs Female. It is society against patriarchy and oppression. Supporting a cause where a group is actively marginalised and oppressed doesn’t make you any less of a male. It is morally right to speak out and stand up against oppression, even if it is by those you know. All we need to do is introspect about ourselves and the ripples caused by our actions in today’s society.

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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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