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Can Humanity End Its Conflict With Nature And Prevent The Next Mass Extinction?

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June 5 is celebrated as World Environment Day. Like every year there are going to be plenty of cleaning drives, speeches, write-ups, banners, news items, etc. to mark the day to support the renewed call to protect nature and environment. Are all these activities helping the cause?

Scientists have conducted extensive tests, experiments and simulations to understand our planet’s history from the time it was born. Though we have understood only a minuscule of the earth’s past, scientists have enough information to prove that our planet is heading into a mass extinction event for the sixth time in its history. Though not all previous events have been fully understood, we know now that the last one was caused by the dinosaurs. The voracious omnivores among them ate so much of the vegetation and released so much methane gas into the atmosphere that it contributed significantly to greenhouse effects and rise in temperature. Whenever nature undergoes acute imbalance in its environment, it resets itself to return to its equilibrium.

So, there are two lessons to learn from extinction events:

1. The universe itself and everything inside it are evolving continuously through changes. This is why we say change is the only constant in the world.

2. Our planet’s nature is going through cycles of balanced and imbalanced states.

The fact has been established that humans are going to be the primary reason for the next mass extinction event. Last time dinosaurs were the most dominant species on the planet and now it is us. This proves that the most dominant species are the primary triggers for the mass extinction events.

So what can we do now to protect nature and make the environment better? I would say not much. We have crossed the line of no return a long time back. For example, we discovered plastic and it has been amazingly useful in a variety of ways. We were so wonderstruck with all its benefits that we did not bother to investigate its drawbacks before it was commercialized. Nature can only break down and destroy what is created from itself. We ourselves have been created from the five elements of nature— which is why our dead bodies are returned to nature through fire (funeral pyre) or earth (burial). But nature cannot act on what we create by artificial means.

This goes a long way back into our history. The checks and balances in nature ensures that no animal’s population grows and becomes unmanageable. Many amazing ways can be observed and some may be cruel for our understanding, but population control in nature is not a random act. Nature ensures that the ones with defective genes get killed and only the healthiest ones survive, which is why there are no genetic diseases in nature.

Plastic pollution on a beach. Image via Getty

When we learnt to grow and manage livestock, we refused to let nature manage their population by protecting them from being killed by wild animals. The result is, livestock population exploded along with our own burgeoning population; we have been destroying more and more of nature to accommodate our own creation and the massive livestock population is a major reason now for greenhouse effects and global warming. Now we are at a tipping point where we do not have the means to break down and decompose the massive quantities of plastic waste we have produced and at the same time we have not found something that could replace plastic at such a huge scale. Even if we were to find something that could replace plastic, it could take years for adoption globally and by that time plastic would have destroyed most of nature.

Let’s not be in any doubt that nature will restore its balance at an appropriate time. Last time it happened, the dinosaurs that were the main culprits for the imbalance were the ones that were wiped out. So this time it is clearly going to be our turn. What can we do to prevent this? Not much.

But we can delay the inevitable by going back to live in sync with nature. I have heard about how coconut husk can be compressed and flattened under certain conditions to create plastic like sheets and they can be used to substitute plastic. I saw a group of students at a science exhibition displaying degradable flower pots made of wetland weeds that are freely available. If we were to consciously create everything we use as biodegradable, it would considerably lessen our impact on nature. If Tesla could find out that electricity can be harnessed for free on our planet, then I believe we can also make mobile phones, computers, TVs and refrigerators that are biodegradable. This I believe should be the next level of innovation we are seeking. There was a time when everything we used was created from nature and could be returned to nature. That is the life we have to go back to.

Look no further than the pyramids and all the ancient buildings that are thousands of years old. They are all built of stones and nothing else. They are the only remnants of all those ancient civilizations and they keep the best secret. Only what is created from nature can survive in nature.

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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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