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Opinion: The Women-Led Movement In Shaheen Bagh Is Defying All Conventions

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Yesterday, I experienced one of the most beautiful days of my life—I, along with some of my friends, went to Shaheen Bagh. The moment we reached there, we were in awe and full of admiration of the sight: brave women with their unfazed spirits peacefully protesting against the unacceptable CAA, its implementation, against the violence unleashed in JNU, JMI, AMU and against every injustice in different parts of the country including Assam and Kashmir.

For almost two months now, the extreme cold weather hasn’t swayed their resolve in any way. We got the opportunity to serve them by distributing biscuits, food, and we also got the opportunity to interact with them, to know more about their personal lives, and how these women have left behind their normal lives and daily routine without hesitating once to join the movement. Their real life stories are a true source of inspiration for us. But they were even happier to see us there and by the support coming from the youth towards the movement.

But what followed was even more overwhelming. As it was time for lunch, they got us biryani, and we asked them to save it for the children instead. They requested us and hugged us saying: “khali pet jung nahi ladi jati, tum bhi hamari ladkiyan ho, khalo, khane ka waqt hogaya hai.” And this is exactly the India that we talk about; the idea of secular India filled with the warmth of love, care— irrespective of religion or language, instead of the cold-hearted communal hatred.

Rizwana aunty, a woman from Shaheen Bagh, who has been looking after the overall management of the movement, said “We are managing everything here peacefully with utmost love. We even request our fellow brothers and sisters to not engage in any kind of violence because we don’t want to give any opportunity to the police to put us in jail. We will carry on the movement in a peaceful manner. Due to the ongoing unrest my son has not been able to go to school for 29 days, but we will ensure the movement continues smoothly.”

Shaheen Bagh
For almost two months now, the extreme cold weather hasn’t swayed the resolve of the women protesting in Shaheen Bagh in any way.

“Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women who have her back.”

“When women support each other, incredible things happen.”

The women of Shaheen Bagh are justifying these quotes and reflecting them in the truest essence. The question that often gets me wondering is: if it weren’t for the managing/organising skills or the loving and caring nature of women, would the movement have been as successful as it is today? Feminine qualities, which have stereotypically been projected as “weak” in gendered power structures in a gendered society, have once again proved to be the strongest qualities of women, which essentially not only sustains a group/family/tribe but binds them together, making them stronger than ever.

These are the qualities that women seem to have traditionally inherited in their very nature by their upbringing and other psychological influences. Still, in the light of the ongoing decades-long gendered violence against women in the domestic sphere and other spheres of public domain, we have somewhere failed as a society even to acknowledge these qualities of women. An acknowledgement which they deserve without any doubt.

There is a lack of acknowledgement and appreciation for the daily work done by women—be it in the context of domestic sphere or workplace (unequal pay, restrictions on dress code in some corporate institutions, and other rights for women in workplaces), or be it the thousands of rape cases, dowry cases, murder cases that we come across in the newspapers every other day in this country. But the women of Shaheen Bagh are making history, rising like the Phoenix. They shall be remembered as a huge example of women empowerment for future generations.

Also, last but not least, we must not forget the zeal and unshakable spirit of all the volunteers working day and night there to ensure everyone’s safety and hygiene. The adorable children who are volunteering effortlessly and continuously and are even more mature, more sensitive than the elderly in some respects.

After all, this revolution is not about winning or losing; it’s about achieving self-realisation and the journey of transformation of self and society.

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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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