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Living Up To Society’s Standards Of Being A Woman Is Exhausting

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#MeToo is an opportunity to take cognisance that something is fundamentally decadent with our socio-cultural idea of “normal”, which can one fine day strike us in our face as abhorrent. I penned down my speedy thoughts as best as I could after conversing with a lot of friends, family, colleagues and going through some introspection:

Last week, my  friend and  I were taking a stroll after dinner at a well-lit, very wide, very public area of Jaipur. It was around 9:00 pm. Four young men on two bikes were riding on the same road, and as they approached us from a distance, their shrill high pitched laughter increased. They began to swerve their motorbikes all across the road. They eventually passed us, and went ahead. That’s an objective report of a seemingly normal event; for a man, yes. But this about how a woman perceives and responds to such social situations. This is how most of us feel throughout the day, at homes, in offices, in streets, in public transport, in private cabs – you name it. And if you think this is something new, you’re not talking to the women in your lives. This is neither exaggeration, nor victimisation and this has to stop. It is not normal. It is not healthy. Not for your girls, not for your boys, and not for a trans-person.

When I heard the roar of bikes with the raucous, carefree laughter, the sides of my ears burnt bright red with anxiety. The muscles in my stomach tensed up and my sweaty palms curled into fists. My jaws clenched and within seconds my blood was full of cortisol and adrenaline, ready to trigger a triple F response (fright, fight, flight). I was no longer listening to what my friend was saying, he probably didn’t even notice the bikes or my tensing up. Normally, a human body does this when faced with grave- mind you, grave- danger. For instance, facing a predator, like a lion. Or when in a fatal accident. Imagine what a female mind and body must go through several times a day, when we walk into a room, a coach, a street full of men. That’s us trying to be safe. That’s us putting our guards on.

I relaxed slowly, when the voices of the bikers had died down and they were a “safe” distance away.

You would suggest that I visit a psychiatrist for what they call GAD – General Anxiety Disorder. You may even be well meaning to suggest me controlled releases of SSRI, just to “relax”. You may suggest me some yoga, some therapy, some breathing techniques or throw some new age Zen koan in my face. Trust me, none of that is the answer. Trust me, I am not the only one. As women, we are trained to be safe. With our training day in and day out, this is how we show up in your world. We still manage to outperform you with our menstrual woes, with unequal pay, with lewd remarks, with clever emotional manipulations, with omnipresent molestation and of course the trending word these days – misogyny. Just for a minute imagine what exactly it is to be a woman, and that too a cis-gendered, able bodied, mentally healthy, heterosexual, upper caste, Hindu woman – in your world. I cannot even begin to deconstruct the marginalized, the minorities or those of us who are “weirdos”.

We have more people in our Blocked list than in our contact list. We have to think a lot many things when we get a text or a call before responding. Hell, we have to deliberate exactly how responsive to be. We have to carefully choose the amount of skin we show, the pitch of our voice, the intensity of anger, the level of ambition, the weight of modesty, the burden of values, the sitting, the standing, the laughing, … it is exhausting. We have to account for the fact that if anything, anything triggered a man’s ire, lust, rage or ego, there is a battle ahead of us. Clearly, your world doesn’t make it your responsibility to manage yourself. And we’re getting tired of it. Just tired.

This is not just women’s issue. It is your issue too. You’re too far from the human inside of you. You have been bullied and desensitised long enough. Come home to yourselves now. Stop deifying or demeaning women, stop being entitled, stop defending harassment with your hastags of NotAllMen, just stop it all.

Boys will be Boys? Really?

#MeToo is also an opportunity to talk to men in your lives- friends, family and colleagues. Many of them want to stand up to shitty behavior but simply can’t, because of an overreaction of lewd bullying that denigrates their conscience as being “impotent”, “effeminate” or “smitten”. Whether or not criminals are booked, whether the skeletons falling out of closet is ephemeral or long standing, with #MeToo, India has an opportunity to reflect on just how normalized harassment and misogyny is in all spheres of our society. A chance to understand that patriarchy damages all genders equally – by either victimising them or by desensitising them into lecherous masochists.
A culture which equals being anything remotely “like a woman” as something demeaning, is flawed to the core. It is also why straight men hate and bully gay men, lesbian women and trans people. It is also why men find it impossible to claim that they were harassed without being psychologically traumatized by manly men around them. It is also why the bullied turn into bullies, it is also why our boys grow up to be emotionally unintelligent violent men and it is also why men can’t stand up to the insane pressure of always being in charge, performing and protecting in order to be socially valuable.

It doesn’t have to be an actual rape in order to classify someone as an accomplice or in order to ascertain what went wrong. We are all accomplices – even women. As far fetched and radical it sounds, unless we start calling out misogyny and sexism for what it is in our movies, songs, daily conversations, in raising children, in “chalta hai” memes jokes and puns, we will forever be stuck in a vicious circle of “boys will be boys” and candle marches when another naked bloodied female body surfaces on our newsfeed.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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