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A Call For Citizen Participation In Climate Decision Making

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WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

In 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon hailed the COP 21 Agreement as “a monumental triumph for people and our planet”. Less than three years later, President Trump withdrew the USA from the Agreement. Reneging of international climate agreements is nothing new. Perverse incentives are aplenty in global initiatives like the Clean Development Mechanism and REDD+, where well-intentioned policy, may ironically expedite resource depletion and increase emissions, as found by the World Bank.

Revisiting arguments of her magnum opus, Governing the Commons, Elinor Ostrom, Economics Nobel Laureate advises, “a variety of overlapping policies at city, subnational, national, and international levels is more likely to succeed than are single, overarching binding agreements”. Today, we are witnessing the emergence of this polycentric approach to climate change. In the USA, few Democrat-led states are defying the Washington consensus. In the UK, most climate action is being taken at the local level, accounting for 70% of climate change reduction measures.

Yet citizens remain passive victims rather than active participants of the policymaking process. Citizens’ participation can help implement realistic change, boosting government legitimacy and promoting transparency. As demonstrated in the world’s biggest climate demonstrations today, globally, youth are demanding further involvement and greater north-south cooperation.

Some have started heeding to this call, like the UK’s recently created citizens’ assembly to deliberate the climate emergency. A Youth Steering Group has also been established as part of the process. Involving youth and those most impacted by climate change, gives communities ownership of their ideas, driving adherence and reduces free-riding amongst citizens, as found in a study in the Journal of Politics. This is vital to incorporate given failed top-down initiatives, like Delhi’s odd-even car scheme or Shanghai’s draconian recycling policy, which received universal criticism.

Experimenting at the local level gives a fail-fast method to identify, scale-up and replicate initiatives in similar policy contexts. For instance, Swayam Shishan Prayog, an NGO, has enabled more than 60,000 rural women entrepreneurs to start businesses in high-social-impact sectors such as clean energy and sustainable agriculture at the grassroots level. This gives those at the forefront of climate change, ownership of contextual policy actions.

Some fear citizens’ assemblies will undermine the authority and expertise of officials. Yet, from Ancient Greece to Renaissance Italy, citizens’ assemblies are a quintessential facet of democracy, preceding the electoral ballot itself. Recent examples like Ireland’s citizens’ assembly on climate change can give insights. Selecting a representative group and equipping them with climate education is essential to avoid political capture. Adequate time for deliberation, independent governance and serious response are required to prevent assemblies from becoming a farce. For instance, in Gdansk, Poland, the mayor agreed that any recommendation with 80% support of the citizens’ assembly on flood mitigation, would be implemented. In today’s fragmented politics, such a mechanism can revive public trust in the climate deliberation process.

Economically, climate pledges need to be matched with financing and budgeting. For instance, the UK’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, will remain mere lip service till the government commits the more than £1 trillion estimated to achieve this. The situation is desperate at lower levels of government where budget cuts and competing demands mean climate change quickly slips off the agenda.

Citizens’ participation can introduce novel climate financing techniques, through participative forums, and hold governments to account through involvement in budgeting processes. Since local climate change strategies are decided on a review basis, public valuation can contribute to ongoing policy feedback mechanisms. Critics cite the ‘value-action gap’, or divergence between public agreement in principle and practice. Nonetheless, citizens’ willingness to pay for climate actions often incorporates intrinsic stewardship, as found in a study in Land Economics. Moreover, climate change is high on the public agenda, with Britons ranking it the third most important national issue in a YouGov poll, a sentiment shared in countries across the world.

Citizens’ assemblies and public valuation are not a panacea to climate change problems and need to be implemented in tandem with existing policies. Strong political and economic institutions are essential for public participation to be effective. Actions like the World’s Largest Lesson, educating young people on the Sustainable Development Goals, are required, alongside the integration of climate change in national education systems.

From Jakarta, where citizens have sued their President for rising carbon emissions, to school children around the world, who have used social media to organise and partake in strikes against climate change, citizens are demanding involvement in policymaking. As we keep revisiting our 2050 targets, public participation will ensure our politicians are held accountable, our budget is invested in innovative and publicly prioritised policies and climate funding occurs in a just manner. As an African proverb states, “what you do for me, but without me, is against me”. As global citizens, our voice needs to be at the centre of policymaking to make climate response effective.

This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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