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Does Indian Law And Society Support Women Empowerment?

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“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman”.Margaret Thatcher

The discourse of women empowerment in India is absolutely reliant on numerous disparate variables, including scholastic stature, casteism, topographical whereabouts, (rural/urban), and age. There are policies laid down on paper pertaining to women empowerment, at both national and local (panchayat) levels, in sectors pertaining to health, fiscal policies, edification, political association and gender-based violence. But the eternal question lies – are we following them? The answer is – there is a consequential hiatus between the policies laid down and the actual practice followed by a faction of people.

We reside in a patriarchal misogynistic society, which is one of the key reasons for this hiatus in the actual execution of laws and strategies, which address nepotism, budgetary disadvantages, and oppression against women in India.

We inhabit a world where female deities are revered, and the ordinary woman is subjugated, harried, ill-treated, raped, and abducted every single day. To control the rising violence in women-related cases, the government has implemented certain rights, which every Indian should know. From a feminist bird’s eye view, here are those eleven laws which every citizen should obey:

  1. Discrimination in payment has been abolished.
  2. Females have a right to decorum and gravity.
  3. Workplace harassment has to be dealt with the aid of legal recourse.
  4. Domestic violence has been criminalised.
  5. Anonymity is granted to women subjected to sexual violence.
  6. Women cannot be arrested in the night.
  7. Female rape victims and also sufferers of domestic abuse have the right to avail free legal aid.
  8. Women can lodge virtual complaints by email or posts. There is no need to be physically present at the police station to lodge a complaint. On receipt of the accusations, the SHO should send the cop to record her statement.
  9. Indecent conduct towards a woman calls for punishment.
  10. A woman stalker is a criminal and is subjected to punishment as per the books of law. Stalking in any form is an offence and needs to be dealt with an iron hand.
  11. Women have the right to file an FIR at any police station. It is a landmark judgment which has been passed by the Supreme Court to save the victim’s time and enable the arrest of an offender immediately.

The figures related to sexual and other physical crimes against women are always appalling in India, at any given hour, day or year. There are various independent establishments that work towards assisting women to fight this constant threat of violence. Their goal is to work towards making the nation a safer place for women by commencing changes in stratagems and orchestrating recognition manoeuvers that aim to enlighten the masses.

Their objectives are:

  • Extricate women and children from perilous domains and rehabilitate them at a safe, interim or perennial shelter.
  • Make a woman financially solvent, by either monetary support or suitable educational training, so that she can be financially self–reliant.
  • Provide legal recourse to assist the sufferer of sexual or physical abuse. Discern her rights and instigate the judicial procedure for proper justice attainment.
  • Bestow admonishing and psychosomatic convalescence.

The Divide Between Empowerment Of Rural Vs. Urban Women

But, there is a hiccup. Our patriarchal society creates a direct impact on the empowerment of rural women, which is much less as compared to the urban populace. Rural women, unlike the women living in cities in urban areas ones, are subjected to inequalities at much higher rates and in all domains of life.  An urban educated woman enjoys adequate access to fiscal adequacies, vigour and pedagogy, and often encounters less domiciliary oppression.

There are further hindrances to the life of a rural woman. As I cited at the beginning of the essay – education, casteism and class divisions are some of them. The lower category, i.e. the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward castes suffer maximum maternal volatility and female feticides. Unable to bear the medicinal expenditures, and also with little or no exposure to education, these women aren’t allowed to participate in decision making and also face a higher level of sexual abuse which often goes unrecorded.

Societal severance amongst urban females also has a direct impact on women accreditation. Upper class and scholarly females are preferred in areas of healthcare, education and remunerative opportunities. The lower class, less educated females in urban milieu have lower access to such facilities. The brisk urbanisation and financial upheavals have given rise to illegal slums and slum dwellers. They are unorganised, subjected to frequent raids and demolition, and the dwellers face other forms of abuses and insecurities. The women and children are worst affected and are also deprived of basic human rights.

The above scenario has enforced woman activists to stem in feminism and feminist movement (women’s movements) which refers to “a series of political campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, women’s suffrage, sexual harassment, and sexual violence, all of which fall under the label of feminism and the feminist movement. The movement’s priorities vary among nations and communities, and range from opposition to female genital mutilation in one country to opposition to the glass ceiling in another.”

There are certain misconceptions surrounding the word ‘feminism’. Many people believe it means hating a man or wanting a woman to rule over a man or everything. No.

“Feminism simply means believing that men and women are equal, neither is better than the other and neither should be treated with more respect than the other – everyone should be equal on all levels, simple as that.”

In closure, I say though, in spite of so many hardships, the women in India have excelled in sectors like medicine, engineering, aviation, civil services, army and teaching. The number is still limited. India still has a long way to go.

Forge ahead in long strides, women. Let these men not overpower you. Unite yourselves and put an end to female foeticide, educate a girl child and empower a woman. That’s how a nation can progress. Enough said!

This post was originally published 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.

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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.

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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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