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The 3-Point Misogyny That Lies In India’s Rape Culture

When the #MeToo movement hit Indian social media platforms in 2018, we felt the shock of the sudden rise of feminist voices subjugated by retaliation of the #NotAllMen tag circulating alongside a volley of misogynist comments. The debate surrounding Indian rape culture is not an ongoing scenario. It has existed, but never addressed to the core.

In our rage of inhuman behaviours, we forget that we teach prejudiced values. As kids, we imitate our parents, our elders, our society, our peers. The ability to withstand judgement and stand your ground comes with an understanding and maturity of yourself, as an individual. Cue the teenage rebel crisis.

This woke feeling is honestly not something you can expect to achieve when you’re 9. And in Indian societies, apparently, even when you’re 40. Because we are wired to put family above all else… or community, or caste, or religion.

A desperately lacking sense of the individual plagues our conscience when we rebel. The typical Indian rebel is one that defies not just societal norms, but familial ones. The orthodoxy that grasps the adult in our country is a direct reflection of the rigid and hetero-normative behaviour we force on our children. Yes, things are changing, but last I checked, I didn’t go to school with guys who had a genuine choice to wear skirts or sarees.

The crisis of this self-identity morphs into the idea of dismissing anything as collateral damage for the greater good: Being of one caste, oppressing another becomes a label of doing good for the community, being a man, ‘landing a woman’ becomes a sense of pride in masculinity, being straight, oppressing gays makes you an advocate of normal society.

These narratives showered on us with the intent of keeping us from straying away from norms become harmful, not to the community but the individual. And in a country with a population of 1300 million people, most times, we prefer not to care about the individual. No one realizes this at 13 years old because no one was ever taught to be accepting of sex.

We need to reconfigure ourselves in a way that we become a voice for the human condition, without prejudice.

Here, Sensitization Is The Only Way To Go

We’ve let ourselves get gobbled up by a system that uses labels as oil for the machine. Why not add some pure, unadulterated love to the mix?

When talking about sex, don’t degrade its human value- we all know most people feel sexual desire so let’s act like it. Hiding behind a notion of morality makes us turn to the spiral of delusion, turning us into hypocrites. Some might argue, we’re all hypocrites. The question is, what is your poison, and are you making sure your poison isn’t killing other people?

Sometimes, we may feel like love, human-to-human doesn’t exist, but, if given a way to express this perceived loneliness, ‘the difference between you and me’, we might find a way through the diversity to an unusual connection that makes us adhere to society in the first place. Because passive-aggressive policies are adopted in every Indian’s life.

Because hypocrisy is not something that appears all of a sudden. It grows like a weed, and if the system we have developed around the concept of sex, intimacy, and gender is any proof, we have been planting weeds in other people’s gardens.

At home, we need to recognise a child as an individual. In schools, we need to teach children to structure their minds around the idea that gender diversity is normal and it’s okay not to want sex. When talking with them about these concepts, we must remove the ‘must nots’ from our conversation and inculcate reason within them. Because rebellion and regret are both human tendencies.

So, when anyone starts talking about feeling not-so-good in their skin anymore, listen. Instead of assuming things, ask. This goes to every adult out there: your anger is not justified by your inability to comprehend.

Media Plays An Important Role In Representation

Media plays an important role in the representation of gender, sex, and equality. Today, more so than ever. Some TV shows or movies are full of narratives of explosive and impressionable nature, and a constant perusal of these can make people jaded and insensitive to the crux of the situation, even if the effect is unsolicited.

Recently, however, films have been making progress in portraying scenes of sexual and domestic abuse in a resonating manner, without a graphic spotlight to dramatize the effect.

From the delicately balanced story of child abuse in Highway to the recent Guilty that deals with the ugliness taking place in teaching institutions, Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan with a bold reflection of the queer community, and in series like Four more shots please, we have seen a slight curve towards media representation that openly acknowledges and deals with issues around gender.

More narratives of this nature can rebuild and change mindsets that have been fixated on gender-role dynamics. We all need a retrouvaille: a place to find ourselves and each other when we feel lost. Sensitization from a young age will change the way we look at things, and as Indians, we tend to shy away from change, instead, hiding behind our ancestry and/or tradition as an excuse.

The power dynamics in our country are skewed. It is, without a doubt, a male-dominated society. It is also, without a doubt, a power-generated society. When we talk about patriarchy, in particular, it never hurts to note that as individuals, we’re all susceptible to the ego.

When a problem stems from the ego of self-importance and self-delusion, men are heralded by society, and women disgraced. At least, that’s the narrative we’ve been hearing. Let’s flip the coin on its side for a second: When a problem stems from ego, gender is given more importance than sensibility and reason.

In our convoluted sense of power, however small that may be, we forget to see that rage, hatred, and shaming is not going to solve the problem of the self-inflated ego. And rape culture emerges from these underlying layers of systematic disintegration.

Within the complex web of the rape culture in India lies a 3 point misogyny: The lack of self-identity, the lack of sensitization and a delusional sense of power.

Now, as we are beginning to write our own narrative around these issues, just two years from the #MeToo wave, remember that in today’s age and time, you are the scribe of the story.

Rethink. Rediscover. Respect.

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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.

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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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