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Can India Achieve The UN Goal Of Gender Equality By 2030?

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A report compiled by Equal Measures 2030, found that not a single country is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030; India ranked 95th out of 129 countries. To achieve gender equality, models and solutions need to create an enabling environment targeting gender inequality, especially gender-based violence (GBV). This creates equal access to opportunities and resources for women and girls in India. Effective programs have put women at the centre of the programming.

In a one-minute introduction film by documentary filmmaker Satish VM for Swasti‘s flagship community health and well-being program, 18-year-old Pooja, a garment factory worker looks unblinkingly into the camera and says, “I want to be successful.”

Pooja’s aspiration is against a backdrop of the odds stacked against her. Pooja lives with her parents Chandrakanth (50) and Parvati (40) and her sister, Priyanka (11) in an 8X10 feet asbestos shed that serves as their living, cooking and sleeping quarters. They are part of the 56% of India’s population who are unable to meet all of their basic needs. There is no toilet nearby, no electricity and no water connection, and they end up spending a major portion of their meagre income, purchasing water.

Picture Courtesy: VM Satish

Pooja aims to be a “helper” which is the cadre of staff she reports to at the moment. Her aspirations and hard work alone, however, cannot address this situation of inequity and marginalization that Pooja lives in; with poverty affecting 2.3% more women than men in India. She also has to face vulnerability to abuse and violence regularly.

The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation noted that 25% of recorded cases under crimes against women are related to sexual assault. Violence functions as a mechanism to maintain existing power inequalities, especially to subjugate women. Gender-based violence (GBV) is founded in this unequal power-relations between men and women. It prevents women from achieving their full potential. But GBV cannot be attributed to any single factor. Therefore, strategies to prevent gender-based violence must be grounded in programmes and interventions that promote gender equality as the ultimate goal.

India scored 56.2 out of 100 in the study that led to the report, with 100 being absolute gender equality. Our country is not alone in falling short—none of the UN member states is on track to achieve gender equality by 2030. Moving beyond binaries, India has a long way to go in terms of mainstreaming equality for all.

However, there is good news. Different legislative acts enable safety, security and justice such as POSH—which is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and more. The role of civil society becomes critical to witness the realization of the goal and subsequently, better ranking in the Gender Index.

The Way Forward

This is an opportunity for contemplation. What are the steps and measures that can be taken on-ground to determine the way forward?

Only 25.5% of women participate in the workforce compared to 53.3% of males. The approach to achieving gender equality and therefore providing space for girls and women like Pooja to fulfil their aspirations, requires an ecological framework that promotes gender equality at the heart of every design, be it policy or programme. It needs to address the complex interplay of factors that operate at the individual, relationship, community and greater societal level. Besides, women are not a homogenous group. Intersecting social identities such as sexual orientation, gender identity, caste and socio-economic status render some women even more vulnerable to violence. This necessitates a nuanced and holistic approach to preventing gender-based violence.

The approach can be translated on-ground to create sustained solutions in varied ways:

  1. Increasing women’s economic independence through improving financial literacy, access to financial services and assisting women to develop their employment prospects.
  2. Working with vulnerable populations to enable the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  3. Skill development through life skills education for low-income women equipping them with knowledge, skills and an understanding of their rights and entitlements enabling them to manage their lives better.
  4. Working on challenging socially constructed gender norms rooted in patriarchy that result in harm to all genders binary and non-binary (LGBTQAI+).
  5. Improving the prevention of violence and violence response systems through community-based mechanisms and concerted sensitisation mechanisms.
  6. Supporting the meaningful involvement of women and men affected by gender-based violence in the design and delivery of services and the advocacy and policy response through the provision of technical assistance.

It is essential to not only ensure women and girls are free from violence but that they have the agency, autonomy and self-determination to reach their potential and lead lives they value. But it cannot be done with a single solution.

Factory-based supported programmes like HERrespect, Women in Factories etc., with brands and their supply chain factories focus on the development of a gender-sensitive work environment and robust workplace systems to address women’s issues, including sexual harassment and discrimination. Brands like Levis and Marks and Spencer support factory and community-based programmes for women. The Marks and Spencer supported POWER programme, an acronym for Providing Opportunities to Women for Equal Rights is another example that looks at increased leadership by engaging in life skills, gender sensitivity and sexual harassment training in communities and factories.

Picture Courtesy: Anup J Kat

These programmes are complemented by community co-created programmes like Invest4Wellness supported by donor partners from various sectors such as Marks and Spencers, Levis & Co, AHT, HDB, Inditex and few others. Invest4Wellness reach out to girls and women like Pooja with doorstep services and enable her to make choices that better her health and well-being and carefully addresses every impediment in the path of her wellness, systematically.

This shows that when we collaborate across the board with every stakeholder to combine different approaches to provide an intelligently designed holistic solution, we arrive at the cusp of a breakthrough, making on-ground implementation smoother and robust.

Ongoing campaigns in the media and concerted efforts at policy and legislature echo the sentiment of pushing through for a gender-equal world. Together, these, along with a plethora of micro approaches and varied collaborations, hold the promise of ecology where women and girls thrive.

Empowering women does not just benefit her as an individual but her entire community. The United Nations states the economic impact of achieving gender equality in India is estimated to be U.S. $700 billion of added GDP by 2025.

Now is the time to unlock that reality. Here is to making success a reality for Pooja and India’s 60 crores and counting female population.

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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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