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Converge In Ahmedabad: 5 Young Changemakers On The Power Of Climate Action

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Earlier this year, the Gujarat government announced it was planning to cover 8 lakh households through its Solar rooftop energy scheme, with a potential to generate 1,600 MW of power. With such ambitious targets, it was only befitting that we heard what people in Gujarat had to say about this decision.

Speakers at YKA Converge Ahmedabad.

So in the last week of September, the Youth Ki Awaaz team reached Ahmedabad to host its first CONVERGE on climate change. This was a special moment for us, it was the first time that CONVERGE was going regional, but what made it even more special was the overwhelming feeling of seeing over 400 residents from Ahmedabad, who had queued up just to discuss solutions around the need for climate action. “We have very limited time, use it well,” screamed one of the messages from the 20 ft wide whiteboard banner placed at the entrance to the Ahmedabad Management Association, the venue for the YKA climate change event.

1. Mudita Vidrohi

The audience at the event was young, enthusiastic, informed, and most of all, they demanded change. The first speaker on stage was Mudita Vidrohi, a popular local environment activist, who has been challenging the government at every step, questioning their agenda behind taking certain policy decisions. “We are being drawn towards a false sense of development, where construction and building new structures are being mistaken for development and progress in our city. We should be wary of that,” she said, cautioning the government not to look at construction as the hallmark of progress.

Mudita Vidrohi speaking at YKA Converge in Ahmedabad

Mudita also spoke about how society is  moving towards a “consumerist” culture where our needs are exceeding our “wants”. Citing global events such as glacial melts and a rise of 1.5 degrees in global temperatures, Mudita cautioned us “not to ignore these events anymore”.

In the debate around climate change, not many people are addressing the millions of tonnes of waste being dumped in our landfills, especially menstrual hygiene waste, which contributes to 12.3 billion tonnes each year in India alone.

2. Kristin Dagetsu

Next speaker was Kristin Dagetsu, Co-Founder of Ahmedabad-based Saathi, a company producing 100% bio-degradable sanitary napkins for the last decade. She touched upon the responsibility of opting for sustainable menstrual hygiene products. “If you are choosing to buy a toothbrush or vegetable, then please carry a cloth bag. If each one of us makes these small lifestyle choices, then we can really make a huge difference to our community,” said Dagetsu, while admitting that “scalability of the product” has been an issue with bio-degradable menstrual hygiene products. “If more people started using this product, I am sure the cost will come down in the next few years. But it is heartening to see that the conversation has already started,” she added.  

The audience pitched in with their questions from time to time: people of all ages, including school children, graduates, environmental enthusiasts, school teachers, subject experts, among others, everyone was bound by the idea of wanting to do something for the environment.

3. Shwetal Shah

The next session featured a Fireside chat between Shwetal Shah, Technical Advisor to the Govt. of Gujarat in the Climate Change department and one of the co-organisers, Gaurang Raval, Founder of Sauhard.  

During the talk, Shah turned defensive on more than one occasion, especially when it came to responding to a question about the government’s responsibility towards fighting climate change. The role of the individual with regards climate action cannot be ignored,” he said, acknowledging that the government of Gujarat has voluntarily taken steps to mitigate carbon emissions in the state. However, he did not have a response when one of the audience members stood up to ask him about why the government was “non-compliant in taking measures to publicly disclose the data on carbon emission records of companies which are high emitters.”

With regards to the policy-level action he said, the Indian government had voluntarily taken steps to mitigate carbon emissions even though it is not among the highest emitters of carbon. Shah tried his best to defend his government’s stance to order the felling of six lakh trees in the name of development and progress but stressed on the importance of relying on Indian traditions to fight climate change. It is the blend between modern technology and ancient practices such as worshipping a cow, utilising a cow’s urine for health benefits that will help fight climate change in the long run,” he added.

This session ensured that the audience questions kept coming in one after another. Most people in the audience felt agitated and demanded to know why the government had not been pro-active in tackling pollution in the state. While acknowledging the government’s move towards waste-segregation, the audience wanted to know how the government was planning to segregate waste at the landfills.

4. Prakshal Mehta

The next speaker, Prakshal Mehta, Co-founder, World Around You (WAY) talked about his work in building empathy and creating a sense of dialogue around environmental education in communities and schools. He focused on the consumerist culture that is prevailing in our society and how easily we discard items. “Any social work in not complete if it is at the cost of dignity of the other person. We create a set of mock shops (as part of the work at WAY) where people in need can get those additional and extra items based on what they require and not what is just discarded items. This teaches them to value what they are buying.” he said.

5. RJ Dhvanit

The final speaker was the most hilarious and captivating. A familiar voice on radio in Ahmedabad, RJ Dhvanit from Radio Mirchi ensured that the audience did not just sit and listen, but interacted with him. Using an example of mango and its various uses in households, right down to the seedling, Dhvanit drew parallels with how we could easily reduce waste from our daily lives if we thought about it more consciously.  “Let us be more sensitive towards consumption and the more we are running a consumerist society, (by buying more) we should be at the same time mindful of the waste that is being generated as result of our actions,” he said, while talking about how the government cannot just absolve itself of taking policy-level actions to fight climate change.

The audience posed several questions to the speakers about how the government and policymakers need to be held more accountable for their actions towards fighting climate change. While the speakers tried their best to respond to their queries, it was clear that time for individual action is over and bigger policy level changes are required now. More and more audience members scribbled their messages of hope on the 20 ft banner kept at the entrance to the auditorium, while some scribbled questions which conveyed their fear of climate change.

The positivity among the audience really left a deep impact on all of us that regardless of the government acting against climate change or not, the youth will never give up demanding action.

Stay tuned for more updates as Converge goes regional. Join us for our next round of young change makers and inspiring voices as Youth Ki Awaaz hosts its first Converge on the issue of Menstrual Hygiene Management and SRHR in Lucknow, on 20th October.

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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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