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Isn’t It Time Women Stood Up For Themselves In Indian Society?

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On a Monday morning in early December, on the 7th platform of Borivali railway station, the ladies compartment area was filling up with women waiting for the train to arrive. Faces full of energy, some with Monday blues, some busy chattering about plans for the week ahead while others were panting breathlessly, thanking God that they could make it well before the train arrived. I was glad to have reached on time only to know that 7.39 AM Churchgate Fast was delayed today.

“I want you to resign today, what’s left in your petty job? I have been earning pretty well, so what’s the need for you to work?”

Faint words fell on my ears when I turned to see a couple hurriedly walking towards the first class.

“I want to be on my own and not depend on anyone else, can’t you understand?”

“Why do you need to be independent when I am earning? Just do as I say, do you get it?”

“Will you even listen to me?”

The voices faded as the train barged into the platform. The casual exchange of dialogue between the couple lingered on my mind for the whole day deafening my thoughts. Did she actually quit her job that day? Did he always dominate her with his plans and was she always suppressed? Or was she used to that kind of behaviour?

My cell buzzed and broke the chain of my thoughts.

“Hey Ashok, is everything okay? Are you not coming to work today?”, I asked.

“Everything’s okay. Called to remind you that we’re to attend Priya’s wedding today evening. Do you remember?”, Ashok replied.

“Oh yes, I do. We’ll leave at 5 pm. The venue of the wedding is somewhere in Andheri right?”

“Padmavati Gardens”, Ashok directed the auto-driver to grace the occasion of our colleague, Priya’s wedding.

“Yahan se left lena hai (take a left from here)”, I further directed, but the driver drove straight instead.

Bhaiya left chaliye (Bro, take a left)”, Ashok stressed.

The auto turned left of the road.

“Ashok, I also told him to take a left. Why couldn’t he listen to me?”

I almost lost my temper at that. We’re in the millennial era but gender bias still prevails. Does one have to be a male to give directions?

“Hey, just forget it, it isn’t a big deal”, Ashok tried to console me, yet it troubled me within.

The stage was set for a grand evening with red carpets laid, exotic flowers adorned in the background, lights in vivid colours and sizes came to life while the night sky was lit with blinking stars that added to the backdrop of the open garden. The air was filled with the mixed aroma of mouth-watering desserts, sumptuous starters and the main course. My grumbling tummy made me turn my way to the starters counter.

“Hi there!” called a voice, I turned around to find my office colleague along with a lady, who was probably his wife.

“Hey Deepak, you’re just in time”, I said.

“Hi, meet my wife, Mrs. Sharma.”

“Hello, Mrs. Sharma”, I replied thinking that surely she has a name, why couldn’t he introduce her with her name?

After exchanging pleasantries, I moved ahead to look for my friend’s family.

Meanwhile, my friend’s mother got busy introducing me to the rest of the family members as “Meet Mr. XYZ’s daughter”.

While this is the most acceptable way to introduce women in the family especially in our country, it does prick me. Do we give our women the due respect they deserve? Why aren’t men introduced similarly? Isn’t it time we re-condition ourselves along with our society in which we live, connect and relate to? Respecting a woman, in other words, could be the way her family talks to her in public.

On my way back, we waited for the train at Andheri station on the 4th platform. It was a jam-packed Virar train. As the train slowed, a man raised his right hand horizontally as if to touch someone.

“Aaah,” a girl screeched.

Gosh! That man had slapped her, for no good reason.

Bahar nikal. (Come out.)” Bang! Mohit, another friend and colleague, had slapped back that man, who had the nerve to slap a girl waiting to get into the train.

“Tujhe kaise laga, vaise hi woh ladki ko bhi laga! (How did you feel? The way it hurt you, the same way it hurt that girl too.)”

My feet had taken me to the farthest corner of the platform. Shaking with fear after witnessing the awful incident, I didn’t dare to speak to Mohit when he came looking for me all over the place.

“Don’t worry lady; I am not going to hit you”, Mohit told me.

“Why did you have to slap that man?”

“Exactly for the same reason, that guy slapped the innocent girl. He was wrong and I had to show him that”, he replied.

“My God, guts you have man!”

I have come across very few men who do respect women for what they are. I wonder if it’s too much of an effort to do so.

The next day, while I was at work, “Hello, Ma’am, this is Dilip calling from Your Bank, Churchgate branch. Your investments have not been reviewed for a while now. Could you drop by at the branch sometime this week?”

“Oh sure Dilip, I’ll see you tomorrow after work. Thanks for reminding.”

At the bank, during my meeting with the Bank Representative, Dilip, while discussing market trends and good investment options, he excused himself to make a call. Dilip had been guiding me with various investment options for the last three years and was known to be a decent guy.

“Excuse me, Ma’m, I’ll be right back attending this urgent call.”

“Sure, go ahead Dilip.”

“Hey Riya, I want you to deliver the document in my top shelf to the bank right now”, he told the person over the phone.

“Why Dilip, what’s the document about?”

“You won’t understand so just leave it.”

“So no problem, you can explain it to me.”

“You don’t even understand the market trends, what good would it do for you to know about it. No, chuck it, get going and just do as I say.”

Dilip was loud enough on the call for me to overhear every word of their tiff. How could he be so rude to, I guess, his wife? He was different at work. What a contrast that was! It wasn’t that he was under pressure that he did not have the time to explain things to her. Is it too much to ask for from her husband?

Such incidents sound so common that we hardly find anything skewed about them, well, thanks to our conditioning. It’s time that women collectively stand up for ourselves and put a stop to the disrespectful behaviour directed towards them. Having said that, we also see several women leading teams of males in the corporate world and not just that; there are several sectors that were previously untouched by women, like space science, the armed forces, female drivers, managing traffic and the list goes on.

A part of society is absolutely changing, however, there indeed is a stronger need to sustain that change, especially in the way, we, as a society treat women in general. An environment free of bias and dominance is the need of the hour, wherein ‘she’ is allowed to voice her thoughts freely and not just that, her opinions and decisions are dealt with due respect. Is she given a sound hearing to everything that ‘she’ says? While the change must begin with us, let’s also shape up the new generations by listening and respecting their voices so that they replicate the change they see in us, to take this movement forward.

The woman needs to sustain her efforts in learning to stand up for herself for what she believes in, become her own inspiration, learn to live for herself first and then for her dear ones. A part of the world does note this change, while the rest of the world is yet to wake up!

 

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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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