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The MeToo Movement Is Pivotal For Women Empowerment And Societal Change

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In certain jokes floating through social media, I have seen the phrase “that escalated quickly” many times. Given the situations it gets used in, I find it hilarious. The same happened with the MeToo and MeTooIndia hashtags on Twitter – but in an extremely serious way. They started trending slowly but then hit the high notes so loud – that these hashtags are now on the brink of creating a crucial social movement.

It all started with the details of one powerful man floating around, but no one was ready to take his name. Then someone did. Women journalists pounced on it and his name became a raging wildfire. M J Akbar, a lion in journalism and now a cabinet minister in the central government. It turns out he was a predatory lion, using his centre stage stature in the journalism industry – to sexually abuse young women journalists, and use his cape of power and influence to silence his victims and devour their self-respect and dignity.

Bollywood actor Alok Nath’s name came up next. This epitome of culture, decency and ‘sanskaar’, is a good-old rapist. The embers have now caught fire and names of corporate honchos and familiar names from the film industry followed. Social media has lit up. Journalists and ordinary people alike – are baying for the blood of these sexual predators.

I got into a row with popular South Indian singer Chinmayi Sripaada on Twitter. She had called Vairamuthu, a songwriter of almost legendary stature, who has collaborated on many of the Tamil songs with A R Rahman. Many aspiring singers and artists who had been abused by him were reaching out to Chinmayi and asking her for help in disclosing their experiences anonymously. My problem with this is two-fold. How did the situation deteriorate to the level where so many women in the case of M J Akbar were reporting their abuse stories now when some of them had happened almost two decades back? Because they kept quiet. So, I wrote to Chinmayi requesting her to reveal the names of the victims, as keeping quiet for so long and hiding behind anonymity are the reasons why sexual abuse has become a daily affair and common practice in the corporate world. She replied to me saying that these women have their careers to worry about – which is why they cannot call out their abusers. Exactly.

Abusers are feeding on this fear to continue harassing women. If Chinmayi had spoken out about her experience long back, many younger singers might have escaped being preyed on by Vairamuthu. This is just one aspect of the situation. Victims are forced to compromise on their self-respect and dignity and they choose to suffer the indignity in silence. Moreover, all men have become potential predators in the eyes of women, it’s sad how women fear men trying to engage with them even in light-hearted conversations.

Women have also been complicit in helping create such a toxic work environment. While they have waded into a male bastion demanding equality in work and social status, this is not a utopian world where men would step aside and let women take over the reins of power from them. What would men seek from women in return other than sexual favours? The ones who agreed – laid the foundation stones of the system. From then on, everyone who went on to enter the system was conditioned to live in the system. Demanding sexual favours from female colleagues became accepted behaviour for men holding powerful positions.

Women who couldn’t deviate and come around to accepting all of this were scarred mentally because of the abuse. Now, the heritage of the system has been handed down to the next generation of men – who have only grown to become more brazen in their actions.

What is astounding now is, other than a few murmurs in the movie industry and corporate offices, there’s almost a deadly silence. It is improbable that the world of glitz, glamour, fashion and wealth could be a perfect world. Rather, it almost seems like everyone has taken shelter for the storm to pass. Shobhaa De, the acclaimed writer and journalist, was on TV to talk about sexual abuse in Bollywood, and she said the ones who have been caught in the net are the expendables and small flies. The big and the mighty ones are hiding in plain sight. She was right on the money. Women have had to go through hell and back especially in the movie, aviation (airline) and healthcare (nursing) industries to just hold on to their jobs. But not a single mouth is opening to complain. Goes to show the height of male dominance – which in turn shows how low women have been buried in the mire of sex, abuse, and oppression.

Every individual’s responsibility in society is to make it better for the next generation. It is not enough that we only try to make our children’s lives better. A life with self-respect and dignity for everyone should get priority over everything else in society. All urban men who become influencers in society are raised in similar environments. Then, how do some go on to become such wily predators? It is upon every individual to introspect and ask – do we want to continue living inside such a slimy system, where we have to keep worrying about our women’s safety and well being all the time?

MeToo and MeTooIndia is a desperate call for change. They are the atomic bombs of urban society, and their explosions have been triggered. What the abusers and predators fear is the mushroom cloud that emanates from it and envelops one and all. This movement may be the only chance for women to go up in arms against their tormentors. This has to become a revolution, cleanse the urban world, and its fire should also spread into rural heartlands. Women have always called out for equality and empowerment and their time to take centre stage – seems to have finally arrived.

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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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