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Society Doesn’t Get To Choose How I Live, I Do

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I got a couple of e-mails from YKA urging me to answer the question “What is that one limitation you wish women didn’t have to face?

They asked me to share my story, and I had to laugh. Living in your typical patriarchal society, I’ve answered this question in my mind hundreds of times, from the moment I began to decipher what people said about me in front of me to my own parents. It’s terrible that your gender decides your activities and places limits to your roles. I choose to defy it.

This my story.

I am an only child. Our society seems to be really problematic when it comes to accepting an only child, that too a girl. So, since the time I began to understand language properly and could make sense of what was being said, I noticed that whenever I met a relative all they had to say was “You should pray to God to bless you with a baby brother,” Or “May God grant your wishes,” or “May God ‘complete’ your family.” It disgusted me. I never wished for a brother. I thought I was happy with my family as it was, and I am, even today.

After a while, they stopped those statements. But, it marked the beginning of a new phase. Let me make it very clear, this one was much worse. “Don’t play with boys too much,” and “Don’t talk to boys,” and a lot of things like that. At that age, I didn’t even know what difference it made if I talked to a boy or a girl!

The worst of all was the time when I reached puberty. It was when I understood the sick minds of society. Even my parents started to restrict me. I used to be outraged by them but then it hit me. It wasn’t their choice. Society had made them this way and collectively they had made the society the same way. There was just criticism for those who begged to differ. This was the phase of “Dress like a girl,” or “Sit like a girl,” and “Behave like a girl.”

It took me a long time to know what they meant by “like a girl“. For all those who wonder the same, here’s what their idea of a ‘girl’ is:

Sit with crossed legs.

Speak politely.

Lower your voice.

Wear clothes that completely cover you up. 

Don’t let your hair loose. 

Don’t look at someone with wide eyes. 

Always lower your gaze. 

Listen and abide by what your elders say, sometimes even your younger ones. 

Don’t think. Just act like you are told to. 

Don’t stand out of your house. 

A lot more instructions.

So, this is want they want, but this is exactly what I couldn’t do. The opposite of this idea is the definition of me. I tried to live like they told me to, and it wasn’t my cup of tea. I wasn’t meant to be that fragile and docile doll. I spoke up when I felt like it, I argued with those who instructed me. I called out my mom when she would give such instructions to someone else.

Representative image.

When I came to know of what other people faced. No matter what their socio-economic status was, what their religion was, how ‘modern’ they were, there were always limits to what a girl was ‘allowed’ to do. That’s when I decided that if we want the world to change, we will have to change ourselves.

I started with small changes. I began challenging the idea of patriarchy. I supported other girls when they deviated from “behaving like a girl.” I changed my idea of being a girl. My idea of being a girl is being yourself, doing what you want to.

I want no limits to being a girl or a woman. Society doesn’t choose how I live, I do. I am complete by myself. I don’t need a brother or any male member to protect me. I am not vulnerable, society is projecting me as vulnerable. I refuse to be what society wants me to be. I am the change.

This women’s Day, let’s be the change. Let’s be us. Let’s support each other. Let’s change the world, let’s defy limits because my gender cannot restrict my role.

Feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives their strength,” said G.D. Anderson

Let’s say it again. There are no limits to what I can be.

Featured Image Credit: Arpita Biswas/Feminism in India
Image for representation only.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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