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Our Transgender Sisters Deserve Support, Opportunities, Respect. Period.

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By Merril Diniz:

January 12, 2019, was a beautiful day in Kolkata; transwomen from across the country came together at “The Third Eye: The Awakening” forum to talk about the support, opportunities and connections that can help improve trans lives in India. The artist Kalki Subramaniam who began channelizing her creativity into painting at age 12, and prominent trans women like Rudrani Chettri and Gauri Sawant, spoke powerfully on their struggles and successes.

A sentiment that was touched upon several times by most panelists, was the need to be accepted socially, aside from all the legal frameworks taking shape in our country. The acceptance of trans people at colleges, workplaces and all other spheres of life, instills confidence and a sense of belonging; our society will be richer for it, and future generations will thank us for embracing our differences.     

SHEROES Community member Tanvi D

In this context, it gives me great joy to see trans women finding a home on the SHEROES app, engaging with cisgender members across our health, relationships, careers and creative communities, among others.

Our very own in-house celebrity Tanvi D, a photographer by passion and profession, an active member of SHEROES Arts, Crafts & Photography community, got an opportunity to be on a panel at The Third Eye, and share her life nuggets.

This Trichy girl has had many struggles but what we see, today, is a woman aligned with her inner self, slowly building her narrative in the world.

The woman’s hostel she resides at in Chennai is supportive. She has developed VFX skills to supplement her career as a photographer.

A sentiment she candidly shared on the panel is, that when she is offered a lower remuneration due to her trans identity, more than financially, she is hurt emotionally.  

When we demand equal pay for equal work, why must transgender people be excluded from this basic human right? 

A photographer par excellence, Tanvi is not one to sit still for long. After the panel, throughout the event she was on her toes, capturing all the wonderful moments from that evening, and the images you see in this article are taken by her. You can also read more about her journey to the woman she is today, here.

Creating Access

Access and opportunities are the cornerstones of growth, and one of the most impressive activities at The Third Eye was that trans women got to showcase their businesses. 

Fashion designer Diyasha who has created a  “gender flexible”, made-in-India, upcycled fashion brand, stood on the podium, pitching her venture to a group of investors.  We need many more such platforms and segments, to offer a gentle nudge, and fuel the engine of entrepreneurship, which in turn fuels job creation.

Fashion designer Diyasha pitches her gender flexible brand to investors

What followed were two more power-packed activities – a live auction of artist Kalki Subramaniam’s artwork, the proceeds of which went into training and mentorship of trans artists. 

Artist Kalki Subramanium auctions her art to support trans artists

And a fashion show, chronicling the spirit of trans people. 

Trans and cisgender people walked the ramp together, where undoubtedly, the showstopper was trans model Sandra Nandeibam from Manipur.

Her walk is so Tyra Banks-certified fierce, she could be blazing all the top runways of the world! 

Model Sandra Nandeibam from Manipur at The Third Eye

Bappaditya Mukherjee, founder of the NGO Pranthakatha and a panelist shared that Kolkata may soon receive its first medical facility fully equipped to support trans people. As he broke the news, he pointed to a young transwoman in the audience who was successfully trained as medical technician, and a young transman, who now leads HR at an IT firm and is responsible for hiring cisgender people, among others.

Support and acceptance

When I recently chatted with a bright young techie girl about the event, with a giggle, she muttered under her breath, “red light district”.

I don’t blame her for low her awareness levels but welcomed it as an opportunity to educate, especially of the fact that her field, IT, has been welcoming of trans employees. There have been instances where trans people have been known to feel more included in office, than beyond those walls.  

Transgender people are excelling in multiple fields, from IT to design, and entrepreneurship. There’s simply no dearth of talent, hard work and hunger to succeed, in the trans community. Yet, the everyday, relatable, conversational, social acceptance is missing.

Rudrani Chettri, who launched India’s trans model agency, leaves us with a powerful question on basic human relatability, “If you see a trans person, would you walk up to them and start a conversation?”

Vayajanti asks “Why not”?

I’d like to end with a note on the force behind The Third Eye, a platform that SHEROES is honoured to partner with.

Put together with much love and some hardship, by the Kolkata based-event entrepreneur, Vayajanti Saharia Pugalia, she shares how, in the run-up to the event, she was questioned several times, why she, a cisgender woman, was hosting a conference around trans rights and dreams

To this she had a pretty logical response, “Why the heck not?!”   

Photo credits (includes cover): Tanvi D photography 

Merril Diniz is Head of Communications at SHEROES, a writer at heart, and passionate about the women’s narrative. She has been a SHEROES community member since 2012, and loves the idea that women supporting women can make for a more progressive, awesome world. 

                               SHEROES Communities for women are accessible via Sheroes.com and the SHEROES app
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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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