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How I’m Teaching School Boys To Challenge Rape Myths And Ask For Consent

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By Sanjana Yadav:

Imagine a school where children have the freedom to wear clothes of any gender, any colour, and any style they feel comfortable in. A school where boys learn the art of cooking and host feasts for locals while girls flex their muscles and wrestle competitively in the courtyard. A school where each child understands and can differentiate a ‘good touch’ from a ‘bad touch’. One where each child respects personal boundaries and accepts the strengths and weaknesses of their fellow classmates.

Through the efforts of my teammates and me at the Barefoot College, there exist 27 schools, spread across 14 states, where we have worked with teachers and local communities to develop and integrate gender-sensitive curriculums.

Traveling through the rural areas of Rajasthan back in 2017, I couldn’t help but notice how gender-based discrimination is engraved deeply in the very roots of our society. From holding their bladders in the absence of adequate indoor toilets in rural areas, to the demarcations of stringent gender roles, calling a boy a girl is still the greatest insult. I found out how parents have imprinted their opinions onto children who, due to the lack of corrective educational influences, have no room for questioning as an adult.

I believe that education or schooling is a process through which society creates the kind of individuals we wish to see in the world. Hence, it’s imperative that the school curriculum lays strong emphasis on inculcating values of equality, inclusivity, and diversity, all of which are essential for building a healthy society.  That’s when I decided to make school students and teachers sensitive about gender issues and promote critical thinking among children to question stereotypes and deconstruct identities such that a positive gender equity ideology can be created during the formative years of the child.

With the idea of Gender Equity Clubs in rural areas for children belonging to the 6-14 years age group, we have successfully neutralised gender-dominated spaces by engaging children in various activities and awareness sessions on child abuse, domestic violence, and child marriage, stereotypes, menstruation, etc. Using a ‘learning-by-doing’ approach, we engage and sensitise children on gender-issues using tools such as poster-making, storytelling, poetry recitals, debates, skits, movie screenings, and group activities.

Being brought up in an orthodox setup of this patriarchal society, I have witnessed the unjust treatment of women all my life. After losing a cousin to domestic violence, I decided to dedicate my life to the purpose of mitigating gender violence and providing relief to the amputated spirits of those women who have lived through sexual assault and abuse.

During the initial surveys, I discovered 6-year-old children saying that it was okay to beat the woman if she commits a mistake and that the only aspiration 10-year-old girls had was to become a “lugai”(wife). Girls expressed that they are not given milk, almost 30% of the children were married and more than half of them were victims of child abuse. I believe that the mentality that denies women power can only be restructured at the root level of its origination. Reaching out to the most marginalised communities who are the most suppressed, neglected, unheard populations, we are transforming the mindsets of our future generation in their formative years.

The curriculum is not limited to breaking the stark gender roles built in our society. In these schools where boys cook food along with the girls and girls play football with fellow classmates, they also learn to identify risk and learn the importance of consent. Students learn physical skills to enforce their position. Boys learn to challenge rape myths, ask for consent, and intervene if they anticipate or witness predatory behaviour. The aim is to teach the students the mental, verbal and physical skills they need to stay safe and change their culture of sexual coercion and violence by freely talking about the same.

In this long journey of breaking gender norms in 14 states in collaboration with Barefoot College, the biggest challenge I have faced is resistance from the community. It has been difficult to highlight the relevance of gender sensitivity in the most patriarchal regions of India without hurting cultural beliefs. In this journey of impacting lives, the short-term impact is not really visible. It is natural to feel demotivated at times, there is a need for validation and acknowledgment.

This is when V-Awards, an initiate by UN Volunteers India, provided the much-needed recognition and motivation to my work. We still live in a world where volunteer projects are not acknowledged as ‘real work’ and people are still afraid to support these initiatives. Personally, due to the stereotypical myths of ‘Samaj Seva’ (social service) prevalent in India, my parents couldn’t appreciate my choice of volunteering in the rural sector. Being applauded as a V-Awardee has not only helped me gain acceptance and understanding from my family but has also added more credibility to my work professionally.

I firmly believe that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step. We are a step ahead in creating a society of gender equals, but there is still a long way to go in creating a generation of equals. The only thing between you and your passion is one step. Have the courage and take a leap, because the journey of volunteering has a lot to offer, both personally and professionally. The key is to just be brave!

Sanjana Yadav was amongst 10 young, passionate change makers who were awarded the V-Awards organised by UN Volunteers India for their phenomenal contributions to society through volunteering. Are you a volunteer working towards a better tomorrow too? Apply today to be considered for this year’s V-Awards!

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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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