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This Women’s Day, Let’s Bust Some Myths, Ladies!

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To be honest, knowing what a woman is all about is a learning process and a difficult one at that. You cannot define a woman, just as you cannot define a man, because there is no one definition, no one size that fits all.

This women’s day, let us see if we can wrap our heads around some of the hundreds of stereotypes that commonly center around the female gender.

1. A woman is cranky, she must be PMSing.

Well, it could be that, or it could simply be that she is cranky because she has had a tough day, or has one ahead of her, anyway. She might have been yelled at, at work, or argued with a colleague, or with her mom, or her best friend. She might be worried about something that is nagging away at the back of her mind, or quite simply, she might not be well.

Literally, there could a million reasons why she is cranky, if at all she is. Perhaps, the next time, instead of writing it all off as PMS (by the way, how many of us really know what that means?), you should sit her down, put an arm around her, and simply ask her what the deal is all about. But no, of course, it is easier to let her go out of her mind, with whatever it is that is bothering her rather than asking that one simple question! Who knows, asking that question might awaken the devil himself.

2. A girl wears short clothes, she travels alone and maybe gets home late at times. She parties with boys and god have mercy, she drinks, and/or smokes! That is a girl asking to be raped.

This has been much talked about, at least over the past few years. Yet, there has been so little change in people’s mindset, that the issue needs to be reiterated until it is driven home. A girl in a pair of shorts is still a girl, she is not just a vagina. She travels alone, which means she is smart enough to do that, and gets home late at times, which possibly indicates that she works late, or loves to party. And no, neither of that is an excuse to judge her. It just means she is one independent, fun-loving girl, who enjoys the occasional booze, and smoke, and doesn’t think that her gender has anything to do with what she wants from life.

To all the aunties and uncles out there, nope, she doesn’t have loose morals, and her character isn’t tarnished; she just has a set of principles that are different than yours. And as for the guys out there, intimidated yet, much? Let’s pounce on her, and tear her to pieces, shall we? How dare she encroach into ‘manly’ territory and make us, with our brittle, distorted masculinity, feel insecure?

3. Being a housewife is the best thing in the world! No work all day, just Netflix and chill!

In 2019, this does not even begin to make sense, and I’m afraid women themselves help to reinforce this stereotype, simple by repeating it! Not all housewives are going to kitty parties and gossiping!

Majority of housewives get up before sunrise, cook for the entire family, handle the kids’ tantrums, and send them to school. Then once the husband is off to work, the rest of the household chores stare you down, and you spend the day making the house spic and span, washing dishes, clothes and dropping in at the market with a long list of groceries.

You look after your in-laws, in case they are living with you, set up the table for lunch, eat yourself with as much speed as you can muster, and then, finally, might sneak in an hour for yourself.  Before long though, everything that you did in the morning needs to be repeated, and of course, the husband and the kids are back, and they might or might not vent their day’s frustrations on you (because you had done nothing the entire day)!

Then dinner happens, you clean up for the day, help the kids with their homework, because your dearly beloved husband needs his ‘me time’ after a long day at work. And that my dear people, is just one day in the life of a housewife! All without a single penny in the kitty. Easy-peasy, isn’t it?

4. Women are shopaholics. They love their shoes, their clothes, their bags, their jewellery etc, etc. And, they need a rich man to achieve their shopping dreams.

Let’s face it, a lot of us do love our clothes, and a piece of jewellery once in a while doesn’t hurt. But we don’t go bonkers over them the way it is made out to be, and we definitely do not need a man to give it to us. The reality is that the majority of women in India would rather serve their kids two square meals a day, because that is all they can afford to dream of. And those who do shop for expensive stuff, well, they do it because they can afford to do it themselves, not because they need a rich guy’s credit cards to do it for them.

There is, though, a breed of women, who have interests other than shopping and beauty salons. So next time, anyone, be it a guy or girl, simply looks at a woman and asks her how many pairs of shoes she has, well, remember, shoes are not just for wearing!

5. Embittered women become feminists. Feminists are men-haters.

Firstly, women do not become disillusioned with life and then decide to turn feminists. Secondly, feminists are not men-haters. Let’s get this out of the way first. Feminism is not about hating or bashing men. It is also not about women who want to become more like men.

A woman who has a healthy sex life is not doing it because she wants to be like a man. She is doing it because she enjoys it, just as a man does. Feminism is about respecting women and men equally. It is about doing away with double standards in society’s treatment of men and women.

This little fact, I’m afraid, escapes most men and even women. A woman who says she is not a feminist, does so because she presumes that it entails hating men. It does not. It entails equal treatment, being put in the same pedestal as men, neither below, nor above. It entails a fight for our fundamental rights. Basically, feminism means freedom, it means you get to make your own choices. Period.

For those who will see this piece as the angry rant of an embittered woman, well, it is angry, but not because I’m embittered, which I am not, yet, but because it is astounding that one should even have to write this up, today in 2019! And this piece is not anti-men, it holds women just as much responsible for perpetuating gender stereotypes as men.

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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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