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From Consent To Compliment: 5 Important Words Men Could Have Learned Much Earlier

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PLD logoEditor’s Note: This post is part of a video series by Partners for Law in Development - India and Co:Motion. Based on stories re-constructed from real cases, this series, in collaboration with Youth Ki Awaaz, seeks to create crucial conversations around sexuality, consent and rejection. If you have experiences or a story to share, publish it here.

I salute all the women who have shown tremendous courage and spoken out against harassment they have faced in the workplace, schools, colleges, and other places.

The time is up and in retrospect, we should all look into our behaviours; because we were are born and brought up in a patriarchal society. We have been in the habit of looking at many things as ‘normal’, which is generally not the case.

We have learned “boys do not cry or behave like girls”. We have failed to understand the boundaries of intimacy, consent, and other important aspects of a relationship. I heard about consent when I was pursuing my masters, and it’s not funny, it’s a terrible reality. It’s disgusting to learn about such an important concept after so many years of my life.

I don’t remember debating or discussing such issues when I was in college. It doesn’t mean that all of us never valued a “no” from our partners back then, but this issue of respecting the ‘consent’ has been taken seriously after a very long time in our society. But, let’s be clear, not understanding consent can’t be an excuse to harass someone.

‘Sorry’ has been one of the words we have avoided to use in our lives. We never looked at things carefully, our choice of words for women and ways of touching them; we often crossed the thin line of acceptable behaviour.

Every one of us is different, and our behaviour should reflect this difference. Our ignorance might have made the person on the receiving end uncomfortable, but their silence should not be confused as their approval of our actions; there could be many reasons why the didn’t speak up. But enough is enough, better late than never. Let us analyse the things we learnt while growing up. We learnt that men should talk about what they have been explicitly taught, and not about things that aren’t “manly” enough. Men should evaluate their behaviour at home, workplace, public places etc. Men should learn about the nuances of sex, and unlearn the cliched ideas of getting pleasure using their partner.

Before we make some much-needed changes in our behaviour, which we thought was impossible, let’s have a small class on vocabulary. Here is a list of some words; which all men should have learnt much earlier in their lives:

1) Consent

a) Noun- Permission for something to happen or agreement to do something

b) Verb- Permit something to happen.

Let’s be clear, in this context, “something” is primarily sex and related activities. Every sexual act starting from a kiss, demands consent. You cannot make any move without your partner’s permission, and this consent is an ongoing process and can be revoked at any given time during the ‘act’.

2) No

a) Noun: A negative answer or decision.

b) Expressing disagreement

You might have heard it in 18 different languages in the movie “Pink”, where the central character went to great lengths to emphasise – that no means no. But, real life and reel life are different, in every aspect. We have failed to respect this word, yes and we still do, but it’s high time we start respecting a ‘no’.

3) Harassment

a) Behaviour that annoys or upsets someone.
b) Illegal behaviour towards a person that causes mental or emotional suffering, which includes repeated unwanted contacts without a reasonable purpose, insults, threats, touching, or offensive language.

Harassment is not always violent. Sexual harassment has different levels and types. A word, touch, picture, gesture, posture can amount to harassment if the person opposite to you feels offended.

4) Compliment

a) A remark that expresses approval, admiration, or respect.

Sexy, hot, bomb, pataka, patola: These are not compliments these are lewd comments.

5) Touch

a) To put your hand or another part of your body lightly onto and off something or someone.

Why do you feel the need to touch a woman without her permission in the first place? Brushing your hand, poking, tickling or groping does not count as ‘touch’, it amounts to harassment.

So, learn these simple words – before you make the same mistakes again.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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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.

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
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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