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I Want To Be The Last Girl With A Story Like Mine

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ISIS arrived on the outskirts of Kocho (Sinjar, Iraq) early in the morning of August 3, 2014. The Yazidi village was under siege for two weeks; the people were held captive inside their homes awaiting their fate at the hands of the Islamic state.

In her memoir ‘The Last Girl – My story of captivity and my fight against the Islamic State’, Nadia Murad describes her journey from being held captive by the ISIS as their ‘Sabaya’(sex slave) to becoming a human rights activist. It’s been a few years since she escaped the brutality that many young Yazidi girls are still forced to endure even in 2018. While the ‘war on terror’ may or may not end, what irks me the most is the perpetual war on women which does not seem to end and exists since time immemorial. The history despite the bias has been unable to hide the fact that women have been rendered voiceless and dehumanised more often than we would admit. Even the recorded history is replete with instances of crimes against women.

ISIS killed 18 members of Nadia’s family including her mother. With a fraction of her family left by her side, Nadia continues to fight for the rights of women and children who are left vulnerable in the conflict zones. She is the UN’s first goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Her memoir is not just her story; it’s the story of the entire Yazidi community across the world. She describes the history of her people, their culture and religion. The religion which the ISIS wishes to wipe off the face of earth – through its systematic destruction of the minority they refer to as ‘unbelievers’ or ‘infidels’. The ethnic cleansing/genocide of this community is one of the biggest human rights nightmare that went on while the world chose to look away.

‘The Last Girl’ is the story of a victim-turned-survivor-turned-fighter who chose to raise her voice against the injustices meted out to her community by a group of terrorists. She describes the political turmoil in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the rise of the Islamic state. She basically traces the journey of the militant group’s rise to power through terrorism. This book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand what ISIS is and how it operates.

“First they kill the men, then they take the women”

The destruction of Yazidis, a small ethnic and religious minority in Iraq and Syria was carried out by ISIS in a strategic manner. They destroyed their infrastructure – their homes, schools and places of worship, killed the men and took away the women and children. Hence, making sure they had no place to return to or a way to get back to the life that was snatched away from them. The women were systematically raped, beaten, sold and passed on among the militants and children were brainwashed into becoming ISIS fighters. Forcible conversion to Islam, and enforcing new names and identities was an ISIS tactic to completely destroy the people they considered ‘Kaffirs’.

“I tell my story because it’s the best weapon I have”

Nadia’s story is one of the thousands of stories from the survivors of the ISIS’ highly gendered crimes. While she has been brave enough to give the details of her harrowing experience at the hands of her captors – Nadia keeps on emphasising throughout her memoir- that it’s not just her fight or her story alone. She has in fact given these details matter of factly – almost distancing herself – but the story still hits you hard. She does not try to evoke your emotions but it still overwhelms you, leaving you angry and drained.

“I wanted to talk about everything- the children who died of dehydration fleeing ISIS, the families still stranded on the mountain, the thousands of women and children who remained in captivity, and what my brothers saw at the site of the massacre.”

Nadia escaped her ISIS captors after a period of three months and moved to Germany as a refugee in 2015. Later that year she began her campaign to raise awareness against human trafficking. Since then she has used every platform available to her to speak on minority issues. She continues to demand justice and rights for the victims of war with her focus being on the recognition of sexual and gender-based violence as crimes under the international law. She demands that the international community overcomes political barriers to prosecution in these crimes.

“I don’t understand how anyone could stand by while thousands of Yazidis are sold into sexual slavery and raped until their bodies break. There’s no justification for that kind of cruelty, and no greater good can come of it.”

Nadia was awarded the 2018 Nobel peace prize with Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

She has indeed been brave not only in recounting her story to the world multiple times – but also speaking on behalf of so many others.

And just like her I too hope she becomes the last girl in the world with a story like hers.

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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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