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I Quit Engineering To Pursue Law And Fight For A More Gender Equal India

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By Jyothi PM:

Today’s children are tomorrow’s future.

This central idea, combined with my interest in women’s empowerment and children’s rights was the starting point of my career. I’d originally enrolled for a B.Tech course. If all had gone as planned, I’d have been an engineer working with a big company by now. But my life took an unexpected course sometime in the middle of my training.

Growing up, I had observed with increasing concern the atrocities and injustice that women and children in our society face. I realised that this issue particularly prevailed because the people – at the receiving end of so much injustice – did not even know of the existence of laws that could protect them!

The one incident I would like to share is when I got to know about a survivor of domestic violence through a friend of mine and I decided to attend the case. I got a chance to interact with her in a meeting conducted by Kudumbasree and an awareness class was given to the women of some wards in the locality on laws relating to women and crimes against women and children. After the session, she opened up about her experience, after being assured of confidentiality.

Later, counselling was conducted, and the case was referred to The Kerala State Legal Services Authority (KELSA) and human rights law networks. They conducted an enquiry and decided to shift the survivor to a shelter home. Right now, she lives in her own household without any abuse or fear. If we had not reached her, she may still be living in those terrifying conditions.

It was instances like these and my particular interest in the area that led me to quit the B.Tech course in the middle and opt for law. Switching was a tough decision for me, I faced some challenges as well. But, my motivation to work for atrocities against women and children was one of the main reasons to stick to my decision.

Even today, I don’t know exactly when it was that I decided to be a changemaker. I only knew I wanted to work towards a better future for society.

I started my work by creating more awareness about the law and the rights of underprivileged people that they weren’t aware of. I formed a group of fellow students and colleagues in my college to achieve this and reach the needy. We held talks with students, as well as parents, regarding child abuse, the laws in place and how they could avoid certain situations. Initially, it was tough to convince young minds towards the projected goal. Yet, there were students who cooperated unconditionally for a better cause. Such youth constitute the future of India.

We faced several hurdles on the way. The key challenge was – as it always is – that people are after their money and their own business. No one is interested in sparing time to know about their rights and the laws that directly concern them (there are exceptions, of course, but the majority turn a deaf ear). Even with such a vibrant youth population in our country, it is evident that we fail to cherish them. In a democracy, it is essential that people know about their fundamental rights and principles that underlie their lives, after all!

My interest in law and my perspectives on shifting this trend helped me mitigate this. I was able to catch up on the various alternatives available in reaching these people and learn about the eminent personalities in the field. I even collaborated with the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) as a volunteer to get better understating in the area of my work. I have referred cases of Lok Adalat sessions for counselling and mediations. These are the main alternatives which NALSA provides to our citizens.

During this time, I also had the chance to be a part of the National Youth Parliament in the year 2018. It was a really great experience and widened my views on issues from a state level to a national level. Meeting the other UN Volunteers and the experience of speaking to them, interacting with them and coming to collective solutions on different issues were a great learning experience.

The stories and memories I’ve collected over this year have taught me one crucial lesson: if you want to be a changemaker, you need to do it with all your heart; regardless of how big or small the issue is. It has taught me to stand strong and hold my perspectives dearly, and create a signature for myself, without bothering about the challenges that come my way. If you are willing, you can create wonders.

About the author: Jyothi is perusing a career in Law and works voluntarily on issues related to violence against women in state of Kerala. Jyothi dreams of creating a peaceful and equal society through her work and bring justice for the underprivileged.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Getty Images.
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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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