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An Amateur’s Guide To Gender Sensitivity

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I am a decent Punjabi girl from a decent family. I studied in a school only a selective population in this country could afford, I am studying what I wanted the way I wanted it. I have rules, regulations, biases and prejudice held up against me often, sometimes as an example of what I should not turn into. I have been raised by a single parent, who is well educated and may even be elite, but that does not spare me the wrath of society, and sometimes, even parental bias.
The point I’m trying to make is, despite having a shit-ton of privilege, I am learning something new each day, primarily because I have been brought up in a somewhat conservative, somewhat well-educated and aware environment.

When we say things are changing today, we mean two things; one, we are all trying to look at a wider spectrum of reality, and two, we are constantly facing new facts, which make or break our beliefs. Ever since the inception of social media, things are changing at a higher speed, and this makes it difficult to keep pace with the amount of development there has happened or is happening.
The past few years have been an eye-opener, primarily because I took my head out of my own ass and started looking around, trying to feel more, trying to do more. With the recent developments in the #MeToo movement, I was forced to look back at its very history and it was baffling to see how many people were brave enough to come out with their truths and face their demons. I had read somewhere that blood, tears and sweat don’t discriminate, they each hurt equally. In this case too, regardless of finances, societal position, age, religion, outfit and gender, the violation did not discriminate.

Gender. To be very honest with you, where I have been all my life, the company, the place, even my educational institutes have taught me there are three genders, Male, Female. and the taboo-ed Other. Not only is this wrong fundamentally, but it is also insulting and insensitive. For generations, we have suppressed any sort of truth we were uncomfortable with, even if it meant suppressing a part of the global population. Why is ‘coming out’ such a milestone in the first place? Because (a) we have been accustomed to this suppression and (b) making somebody uncomfortable in their own body does not matter if it keeps our idea of ‘normalcy’ alive. I was taught to not make eye contact, I was taught to look through, I was taught this was not normal, that something about it was not right. Well, I was evidently taught the wrong things. And I was not alone. As a child, of course, I listened and even adhered to what I was taught. I learned to look the other way, I learned to look past, I learned to not acknowledge, I also learnt to use identities and truths as abuses to make any argument stronger. Fighting my bias took time, but I realized that in order to come up front with the truth, I had to know what the truth is. So, instead of asking someone, I went seeking answers to the Internet.

Now, the Internet played a very important role because there were no supervisors here. You could be anything you liked, no one would chaperone you. This, of course, had many side-effects of its own, but that is another discussion for another day. For now, as a clueless 15 year old, I wanted to know what was the flaw in the truths I was so happy believing. I Googled gender and was surprised the there were sub-parts to the Other.

LGBTQ+. I did not even understand what most of this meant. There were people who were biologically female but had a male gender expression, and vice versa. Then there were so many who were biologically male but identified strongly as female (and the other way around), and wanted to turn their mental reality into a physical one. There were those who loved their own kind, those who loved the opposite kind, and those who’s love did not know discrimination.

I went on to read tales from mouths which knew no acceptance, staying in the shadows was now in their nature. I read that the laws of our country dictated what these people felt was not valid. That the only truth they knew as their own was a lie. It was frustrating, primarily because we are a people who harp about our doctors and engineers and the little bit of education we have all received. What use is an education if it allows you to shun your conscience in the name of normalcy. I did more research, I read more, and then, I had to sit back and deal with my own demons. Personally, if you are a heterosexual male/female, things are easier. You do things the way you do and it fits into a grid. It is normal. It is valid. I had to now sit back and undo all the damage society had done to me. I had to start at home, where once my brother said he would ‘turn’ gay if his schooling in a same-gender school was upheld. I had to learn that sexuality is not acquired, it is who you inherently are. The only thing one needs to acquire is the courage to show this reality to the world. I had to sensitize myself to never assume. To be honest with you, I still have to, sometimes twice a day.

I am consciously reminding myself that someone else’s life and the way they decide to live it, is none of my business. I am trying to read more, listen more, and speak more. I am learning to be more tolerant each day, even towards things I was taught which are inherently wrong; and as of now, it’s working out for me. This year, the Courts of this country also acknowledged this part of the population and gave them the freedom to finally be themselves. Nothing makes one happier than knowing that they are not alone and that they are valid.
Nothing except my gut affects my instinct any more. There is a lot of positivity and love at the end of the road, and I want as much of it as I can lay my hands on.

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  1. Nandini Iyer

    This is honestly so good! <3 I loved reading this. And as a 15 year old myself, I completely get you. Lets all change the world together 🙂

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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.

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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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