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Equality For Women: Still A Long Shot Despite All Achievements?

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In the wake of numerous bills and schemes being introduced to address women’s safety, inequality and gender disparity, a few cases have come to light recently, namely, the Unnao and UP law student case, that are petrifying. It is here that it becomes imperative to acknowledge the fact that achieving equality for women in its full value still remains a long shot. It is so because the grassroots of such an issue are consistently disregarded. One should not be oblivious to the fact that any ailment needs to be treated at its core; otherwise, it has the tendency to recur. Thus, despite the progress women have made in the last years – I have to question, when will women be convinced that they’re not second-class citizens or the inferior gender?

As a country, we are filled with pride when women win big in the Olympics or when a woman takes over the noblest post in some part of the world. We boast about how women have left no field untouched. But, we fail to recognise the ratio of such women in our country.

We can very well gasconade about how we have been moving ahead in the direction of attaining equality and eradicating this phenomenon of gender disparity, but in reality, it is still a dream for many.

Women are fighting for equal rights, the right to safety, the basic right to control their bodies, and the right to equal opportunities, and wages in the workplace, around the clock. Freedom, liberty, emancipation and independence are the standing pillars of every human’s well-deserved rights, and these are exactly what many women are still deprived of.

In some cases, demanding such rights also stands secondary. The biggest issue faced by women is to dream of a society where they are treated as autonomous beings, and not as mere chattel.

Undoubtedly, the innumerable schemes and initiatives haven’t been too effective, and often go futile because of the continuous dismantling of the facets of the notion of equality. The patriarchal culture that stokes machismo, and violent masculinity, is directly proportionate to exacerbating social conflict and widens the scope of inequality.

According to a report by the International Center for Research on Women(ICRW), “traditional norms about the role of men and women in society have not adapted to keep pace with India’s rapid economic growth and rise in opportunities for women.”

Findings from the ICRW’s International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES), in India, “reflect the complex and at times contradictory nature of many Indian men’s attitude about gender equality.”

The report further states, “for instance, researchers found that even though many Indian men support policies that promote equal opportunities for women, they also feel that they lose out if women are afforded more rights.”

Another extremely vital point, which has a role to play here, is the idea of masculinity; it is correlated to socio-cultural ideologies and continuously associated with superior physical and mental strength. For centuries, male violence and acts of aggression were often the way that power was understood, and patriarchy upheld. For women, they had a traditional set of norms to follow and were treated as mere chattels, something which was meant to be conquered. As we’d want to believe, we have moved ahead and have witnessed social change and transformation of perceptions over the course of time. But if it is so, then why does an archaic, conservative order still find its sustainability and support from momentous sections of our society? It seems that as much as the men acknowledge this societal change in gender patterns, and understand the need for equality; they haven’t incorporated it fully, or still face issues in internalising it in their personal lives.

Countering such a mindset has become indispensable. It goes without saying, that equality and empowering women still remain pragmatic ideas, which hold good in textbooks, but implementation is still unaccounted for, in each household. Every time a woman is questioned over her choosing a non-conventional career path, her lifestyle decisions, her political ideologies – that freedom of choice is trampled upon. Every time a woman’s opinion is disregarded because of her gender, the gender wage gap blissfully ignored, or crimes against women show an upward scale (such as rapes, marital rape, dowry deaths and honour killings) – we take a step back from achieving this “equality”.

Introductory lessons to such concepts of masculinity and feminism are imparted from a very tender age. As a society, we have emphasised time and again, on the association of strength and valour with masculinity and how education matters more for the boy child as compared to the girl child, how her marriage bears more significance than her education.

Tackling The Power Dynamics Of Gender Inequality

Girls are often taught the kind of feminism that asks them to act tender and submissive. Hence, the decades of trying to address gender inequality through programs and policies aimed at empowering girls and women prove trivial, with insignificant attention to the toxic masculinity that is induced into men.

It’s time to accentuate more upon how we raise boys and men in our society, and how various institutions and cultures actually reinforce inequalities that women are trying to mitigate. Thus, a lopsided redressal tackles the issue partially. The power dynamics that fuel gender inequality are, therefore, left unscathed, and they stand firm in their place, which ultimately results in the devaluation of women.

These gender stereotypes have continuously acted as a deterrent for women in accessing their full value. As a society, we have always perceived inequality as an issue that strictly adheres to women, and subsequently, have only focused on the losing end but we still are not ready to look at the wider picture. Equality in its purest sense can only be rendered; if we tackle both sides, it can only be achieved, if men and women start internalising this concept in their personal lives, and not merely rant about how progressive, liberal, and egalitarian they are.

We are still laggard when it comes to gender equality. It’s time we all do some real introspection here.

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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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