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I’ve Been Told That I Am A ‘Girl Gone Out Of Hand’!

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Discrimination thrives in a lot of forms, especially in our country. It starts right from birth; in Punjab, my hometown, people have a preference for a boy to be born in the family. If a girl is born, wives are shunned by their husbands and families, or their in-laws refuse to meet because they are ‘not happy’ for she birthed a girl instead of a boy. When I hadn’t studied reproduction or genetics at school, I despised how the birth of boys was celebrated by distributing sweets to relatives and neighbours but the birth of a girl child was followed by a period of mourning.

A child’s psychological development starts quite early, sometimes, before the age of two years! A girl faces the continuous reminder that she is not as loved as her brother, that she is missing on something, and is a misfortune and burden for her family. After a long period of continuous fights in my mind trying to find solutions to create a safer space for girls, I decided that I had to start with myself. The choice of studying aerospace engineering in the stark opposite corner of my country created a ripple in my parents’ social circle, everyone asking them to not to send their daughter so far, which my dear parents readily refused to comply.

Starting from the day of my counselling at the university, I was told that aerospace engineering is hard and not suited for girls, ‘why don’t you opt for something like computers? it is good for girls!‘. However, I wasn’t shaken by these frivolous attempts made by people and wanted to follow what I had yearned for so long!

Life at the engineering school was no different, the curfew timing for girls hostel was much worse than boys hostels where almost no constraints applied. The idea for the university was to promote growth for all students but practically the free, creative environment was snatched from almost 50% of the students. If you are late for some reason, you are treated like a person guilty of a crime and threatened that your parents will be informed that you weren’t here. There were incidents of harassment on campus, but they were quickly buried by the authorities for they wanted to protect the ‘good name’ of the university.

It wasn’t only my campus life that was compromised but academics too. There were male professors who would ask you to fetch things just because they wanted to feel their power and seek your submission. This was where it got tricky, such complaints about professors weren’t acted upon much, and the female students wouldn’t want to risk their grade sheets by calling their behaviour out.

During my internship at a small hobby aircraft company, I was told by the owner of that place that “dealing with an aircraft engine is not like cooking.” That stayed with me for so many years even after I finished that internship and got the certificate. I used such regressive remarks to fuel my journey towards my goals and gladly I have been successful in doing so. But, if given the same situation today, I would answer right back to the face of whoever tells me such discriminatory things.

Turning harder and tougher with time I am told that I am stubborn, have a lot of ego, and am a girl gone out of hand. Today, I fight back whoever blames the rape or domestic violence victims, treats someone poorly because of their gender, caste or religion, perpetuates old systems of superstitions related to dowry, menstruation, and other derogatory acts. I answer to people twice my age and reiterate to them that they need to reconsider their beliefs; I make people question. Like all women, being harassed many times at public places in India, I have developed zero tolerance towards it and stand against the harasser for myself or anyone who needs help at the moment.

Apparently, we worship girls like goddesses in our country but we deny them the rights that even a simple human being deserves in a free country. We don’t want to be treated like queens or goddesses and live at someone’s mercy but to be treated as an equal, respected human being who is free to choose the direction of her life. It shouldn’t be a privilege to reach home safe every night, to be able to work for your favourite job, marry the person you like, wear what you feel comfortable in, eat or drink what pleases you. It is a human right that is being denied to half the population of our hugely populous country! A truth that millions of women are living with, building anger every day.

It starts with every young girl, every woman, every mother and grandmother, either you stand up today to get your rights or you tolerate the life you have and leave the same for your daughters.

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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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