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‘We Should Show Families That Women Have Broken Barriers To Become Successful’

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Canadian High CommissionEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #EveryGirlInSchool, a campaign by the High Commission of Canada, Nutrition International and Youth Ki Awaaz to advocate for equal opportunities for girls in India. Join the conversation by publishing a story here.

Editor’s Note: Sahana Sriram of Teach For India writes about the importance of educating the girl child and her experience from teaching in classrooms. Her students from Grade 8 Mubasher Shaikh and Sahil Kahar also share their views on girl child education. 

While teaching History one day, I realised how meaningful the word ‘humanitarianism’ is. It was coined keeping in mind the human values of empathy and care. This word has put a great pressure on human beings to actually become humans. By virtue of life, we all are born humans but we do not become human beings till the time we embrace humanity.

Sumona (name changed), a 14-year-old girl, is a major part of my teaching life. She is the wisest child I have ever met. Her story is full of struggles. She is entangled in the web of patriarchy. She is neglected, beaten and abused. The child has the zeal to study which is slowly being extinguished by the patriarchal society. The child is suffering from depression, and yet there is no one to care for her.

I was aware of gender inequality since childhood and I even faced it in school but Sumona’s story was an eye-opener on how deep rooted the problem is and what impact it can have on someone. Her story made me realise that Indian society is struggling to embrace humanity. Although we are growing as a society, we are far from being humans in its true sense. We have not been able to treat our girls as humans. If any change has to happen in this society, it has to begin from the society becoming human and caring about everyone as human beings irrespective of diversity.

These are two essays that students from my class wrote about the importance of equal opportunity and educating the girl child.

Girls in school reading

‘Chain Reaction’ By Mubasher Shaikh, Grade 8, Mohili Village MPS

For me, equal opportunity means humans get what they deserve as a virtue of humanity and not as dictated by society. The Indian society is, however, plagued by gender inequality. The girl child is restricted from many things due to gender. Though I am blessed to be born in a family of liberals, many women in my community are living this horror every day.

One of my closest friends has been told to study till Class 10. After that, even if she wants, she would not be allowed to study further. I believe that there are two main reasons for this. First, gender stereotyping is ingrained in the society and people operate on it rigidly without thinking of the outcomes. Second, some families follow these principles due to societal pressure. The second reason is directly related to the first and hence, the major barrier in educating a girl child is the mindset of people.

There are numerous programs that the government started to ensure education of a girl child. However, all these schemes are short-term solutions with no long-term impact. If the impact has to be long-term, there has to be a shift in the mindset of the society. We need to find solutions that not only protect a girl child but also that make the society realise the importance of a girl child and why we need to provide equal opportunities.

Changing mindsets is a chain reaction. If one person understands the importance of equal opportunity, they will help others understand, who will further inspire others and this chain will keep growing. One day, it will reach all parts of India and there will be the day when our dream for equal opportunities for everyone will come true.

‘Developing India By Shifting Mindsets’ by Sahil Kahar, Grade 8, Mohili Village MPS

To me, equal opportunity means that everyone should get equal rights and there should be no discrimination among humans. Though India is a free country and the Constitution treats us equally, that is not the case with our society. Both girls and boys are humans and are equal. However, when a girl child is born, people do not seem to be very happy as they feel that girls cannot do what a boy can. Girls and boys both have the right to excellent education. Yet, we see every day that boys are allowed to go to school whereas girls are asked to do household chores.

Some of the families in my community send boys to school but do not allow the girls to do the same. Even if they do, they are not ready to spend money on educating a girl, as, to them, the only job that a girl has is to help at home.

In order to change the mindset of people, we have to take the initiative. We should explain to families how important girls are. We should show them examples of what education can do for families and how women have broken all barriers to become successful and bring about change. We should explain to them that everyone has equal rights and if we take away these rights, our country will never develop. One of the major reasons that other countries are developing is that they are providing equal opportunities to everyone based on merit.

The shift will take time to happen. But, if we can inspire a small set of individuals to change the way they think, it will not be long before everyone starts thinking this way, providing equal opportunities to girls.

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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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