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Do You Really Want Your Child To Be Quiet? Think Again

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Geetha was twelve years old when her family sent her to work.

Before that fateful day, Geetha was as free as a happy bird flitting about and spreading joy in her quaint village.

She was the most vivacious child in the village, always up to some harmless mischief which sent her parents and friends into peels of laughter. Her effervescent laughter was infectious. But the mother had a responsibility. According to her, girls should not be seen or heard too much, for their own good. She loved her little girl and protected her fiercely. But Geetha was always sternly told by her mother to be quiet and “behave like a girl”, to which Geetha’s response was a hearty laugh and a prompt escape out the door. With the little that the young couple was able to earn, they lived contently. Geetha was even enrolled in the village school and it was her most favourite place on Earth after her mother’s lap.

Tragedy struck when Geetha’s father Sathish – the bread winner of the family, fell seriously ill. A treatment at the town hospital could save him but it required money. Money that they didn’t have. Lakshmi desperately requested assistance from the villagers, when she was approached by a kind man named Ravi who sympathized with her plight. After some thought, he made a proposition to her. An easy loan could be available to her, under the condition that Geetha be sent to work in a flower garden in the neighbouring village. Her food and lodging would be taken care of and the family would receive a weekly income too, till Sathish could work again. Torn between her husband and sending her beloved daughter away in exchange for an advance, Lakshmi finally chose the latter.

Geetha was perplexed when the plan was proposed to her. She did not want to leave her father’s side, especially not when he was sick, and she was not comfortable leaving her family and friends. The middleman plied her mind with fancy images of the flower garden where all she had to do was gather and pack bunches of colourful flowers. She would have fun, besides being able to help her father get well again. After some more coaxing, the girl gave in to the middleman’s false claims and her mother’s plea. Lakshmi swore to come get her once her father was well again. An advance of Rs. 20,000/- was given in exchange for the precious little girl. An emotional embrace and several promises later, Geetha found herself on a bus with the man who was escorting her to her ruination.

Days passed with Lakshmi devoutly nursing her husband back to health. The middleman Ravi was back, and hung around to avoid triggering suspicion immediately. While constantly feeding her small amounts of cash, he assured the mother that Geetha was happy and safe and that he would take the parents to see her, once Sathish was cured completely.

A few days later, Ravi was nowhere to be found. Filled with terror and panic, the parents approached the police and searched the neighbouring villages for Geetha.

She had disappeared without a trace.

Days and months passed without any news about the whereabouts of their child. Finally, three years later, Lakshmi and Sathish heard that a young girl was found working in a brick kiln, who was possibly Geetha.

The parents rushed to the indicated place hoping to find Geetha well. The sight that met them was the opposite of it. An emaciated girl was bent over a stack of bricks. Her bony fingers spread wide over the huge, rough bricks, as she held one brick in each hand to stack it neatly. The over-sized kurta top she wore was torn on the sides and bore sweat stains due to profuse sweating while working in the sweltering heat. Her hair lacked oil and nutrients as a result of poor nourishment, and hours of labour under the hot sun had turned her hair into a messy mass of coarse, sun-dried tangles held back by a single rubber band. No, this couldn’t be the same daughter who had been full of life and joy and could make everyone around her smile!

Part of the devastated mother wanted it to be Geetha, while the other just hoped that it was not her. Lakshmi drew closer to the scrawny person fearfully. The poor mother’s worst fears were confirmed when Geetha turned and limped painfully towards them. There was no spring in her step, no silly song on her lips.

She was finally, exactly how her mother had wanted her to be. Quiet.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016 report, 763 children were trafficked in India. Out of the 334 cases examined by the courts, only 4 cases ended in conviction and 18 cases were acquitted or discharged.

(The above story is partially based on true events.)

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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.

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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
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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