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Meet The Inspiring Young Woman Working Tirelessly To Make The Planet A Better Place

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By Zeba Rehman:

My name is Zeba Rahman. I am from Dimapur, Nagaland currently pursuing my graduate degree in Education. Last year, I got to represent my state at the National Youth Parliament in New Delhi. Everyone present was there to speak about a Happy, Healthy Earth, a cause which is very close to my heart.

Even as a young person, I couldn’t tolerate people throwing garbage or tiny bits of plastic papers anywhere but into a dustbin. If the need of the hour is to make planet Earth safe and healthy for the coming generations to live in, then, to achieve that, I want to do everything in my capacity. My Youth Club in Dimapur organises cleanliness drives, awareness campaigns, charity work, and also visits remote areas nearby to talk to residents about good health and hygiene. And I can proudly say that, with every passing day, we make good progress, and witness real change in our area. Changes such as proper use of dustbins, hygienic home surroundings, use of eco-friendly products by minimising the use of plastics can be witnessed in our area. But we do need more active support from young people. After all, change happens when youth imbibe habits in their daily lives that are healthy for our planet.

In school, we were all taught not to be selfish, and to think about the people around us. But by the time I was in Grade 6, I saw less and less of that. I wanted things to change, but I was never really that “smart, confident, extrovert” kid. At the time, I didn’t have many friends and I was always lost in my own world. My teachers, who had failed to understand that every kid is different, never made any effort to understand the individual qualities of students like me.

Things changed when I enrolled in a boarding school the following year. There, I found myself to be myself. I made good friends and had an encouraging warden who would assign us tasks and made sure to praise us for every little bit of progress we made. My confidence grew. One year later, I shifted to an Air Force school, where there were many extracurricular activities. I even managed to conquer my stage fright! It was the year that I joined the National Cadet Corps. As a cadet, until Grade 12, I became bold, disciplined, active, and patriotic. The NCC taught me about teamwork and management. My confidence grew even more!

Then, I joined college and the National Service Scheme. Woah! It was so different from the NCC, but it helped me understand many of India’s ground realities. In the process, I participated in lots of campaigns and activities. To name a few:

  1. Door to door personal hygiene awareness campaigns
  2. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan
  3. Food Safety Campaigns
  4. Green Environment Campaigns/tree plantation campaigns
  5. Fund raising Programmes
  6. Educative Campaigns in the remote villages of Nagaland

And that’s when a professor (and my NSS guide) encouraged me to take part in District Youth Parliament that was held in September 2018. For my exceptional performance, I was selected for the National Youth Parliament (NYP). Participating at the NYP boosted my confidence levels and I was amazed to have got the opportunity to meet the most kindred people.

I listened to each and every Parliamentarian about what they have got say. I realised that every one of us there was voicing out our own viewpoints on how to implement our ideas to make this planet a better place to live in. We represented the voice of so many people and yes, it was a moment to be proud of. We all had to make an impact with the solutions we presented. I was enthralled to see every individual being confident to voice out every possible solution by thinking out of the box.

The NYP made me realise that a single individual can make a vast difference. All we need to do is treat the problems around us as our own so that we can produce fruitful solutions.

Today, I tutor kids between the ages of six and 15, giving my whole to help them grow as people. I function as both a teacher and a psychologist to them, so I can help them with challenges like fighting an inferiority complex. I encourage them to think out of the box by helping them to voice out their opinions without being fearful of what others might think. Sometimes, a silly idea can change the perspective of how we see the world, and, in this way, a new, innovative idea can be born. I give most of my time to moulding young minds because they are the torch bearers of tomorrow. And if we are successful in leading them to the right path, then we as teachers have lived up to our profession.

Things have changed so much, I’ve come quite a long way from being that quiet kid in Grade 6! If I could go back in time, I would have told younger myself to be confident, to speak up, and to be open to emotions. I’d tell myself “Don’t be afraid of anyone when you know you are right, and, most importantly, accept that you are different. You are one of a kind!”.

This is the message I pass on to my young students too, so as to open  up their minds, encourage selfless service, and to make them believe that nothing is impossible when you believe in yourself, accept yourself, develop the courage and passion to be able to cross all of life’s hurdles to achieve your goals.

About the author:

Zeba Rahman is pursuing her bachelor’s in education from Pranabananda Women’s College, Dimapur, Nagaland. She is also a home tutor, entrepreneur, social worker. She is an enthusiastic, fun-loving, adventurous, approachable individual and if you are to visit Dimapur during winters you’ll see her putting up stalls of home-baked cakes and cookies. She has a message for those who have not visited North East India, that “you must pay a visit especially to the beautiful state Nagaland and you won’t regret the decision”.

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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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