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Gender Identity And Expression: A Guide To Ensure An Egalitarian Society

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“Gender plays a crucial role in the development of societies and nations worldwide. From being a marginalised concept, it is being mainstreamed as a dynamic concept in day-to-day operations of international institutions and policymakers.”

Gender is a wide concept. It is not limited to boys and girls, but rather has a variety of identities covered under its wide spectrum. Gender is defined by the psychological, behavioural and cultural traits that are associated with one’s sex, reflecting the dynamics of its terminology. Sex, on the other hand, is limited to the biological differences of genital. The roles and responsibilities of a person in a society lead to the formation of what is called ‘gender identity’.

According to the World Health Organisation, “Gender is often termed as the attributes, activities, opportunities, behaviors, and roles that any society considers appropriate for a girl and boy or men and women.” Surprisingly, society divides gender into binary categories of biological sex. However, gender cannot be limited to a binary; it is more than a biological differentiation. Gender identity refers to the person’s perception of having a particular kind of gender that may or may not synchronise with their sex at the time of birth.

Gender expression refers to the physical expressions that a person outwardly shows, concerning a person’s gender identity. Gender equality and equity often converge with factors that lead to marginalisation, discrimination and inequality. These factors can be socioeconomic status, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, disability, geographic location, and so on.

Sex and gender are often used interchangeably, however, these two terms have completely different meanings.

Gender equality refers to the ease of access to opportunities and resources by a person, including decision-making, equal economic participation, and valuing different aspirations and needs irrespective of gender. According to Forbes, ‘Gender equity’ refers to the fairness of treatment of men and women according to their basic needs. The treatment under gender equity can be equal or differential with regard to obligations, rights, benefits, and opportunities of a person.

Gender often has implications on a person’s health because of the course of the concerning person’s life, their relations, and societal norms. A person can be ready to risk health because of their gender, and the fear that is associated with its revelation. Gender often leads to an increase in a risk-taking attitude among people. This is because there is a feeling of being different or slightly deviated from the concrete norms of society.

Gender can make a person vulnerable to diseases and health complications, as there is a gap in communication with healthcare providers. Gender can also affect a person’s access to services and products. People who are diverse in their gender identity are often subject to discrimination and social stigma. These stigmas and traumas can often lead to mental health disorders.

Fifty eight gender options have been identified by ABC News. Some of them are: Androgynous, Bi-gender, Cisgender, Female to Male, Gender Fluid, Gender Non-Conforming, Non-binary, Trans Female, Trans Male, Transmasculine and Transsexual amongst others.

Gender Mainstreaming

Gender mainstreaming is the process of improving the quality of services, public policies, projects and programmes for all genders. The process is also an understanding of the implication on people from different genders, and acknowledging the needs of people from different strata and identities of society. Gender mainstreaming requires some concrete principles to function without malfunction and discrimination.

Gender mainstreaming requires gender-sensitive language, which means using proper pronouns and nouns to identify individuals with their chosen pronouns and nouns. Data collected by concerned authorities or programme managements should always have equal representation for all genders. It should be ensured that the utilisation of services and equal access is priority.

Equal representation of all genders is one of the most important aspects of gender mainstreaming. It is also important that gender budgeting and quality management are integrated with the process of policymakers and programme managements. Systematic steering and gender-specific analysis and management are necessary ideals of gender mainstreaming.

Photo by Subhendu Ghosh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Gender Needs And Planning

‘Gender needs and planning’ acknowledges the fact that different genders in the population have different needs. Different groups of men and women also have different levels of access to resources in society. Gender has a wider heterogeneous population, and policymakers and stakeholders cannot ignore the fact that each section in the big plethora of genders has different opportunities, unequal access to resources, and different constraints.

‘Gender and development’ is a wide concept, and the ideas and schools of thought that it displays is infinite. The wider the concept, the narrower is the treatment of society towards a section of people that has a varied kind of gender. Women from different countries and religions in the world face barriers to information related to health. The cultural gender norms of societies in different parts of the world have rigid barriers and cultural gender norms.

Women face a lack of economic independence and strong patriarchal foundations. Men are also surrounded and constricted by the fabricated gender norms of society. Indian society expects unrealistic conduct of behaviour by men. The Indian subcontinent expects men to be so strong that they suppress their emotions. They are asked to be as strong as a rock. The high expectations of society make many men ignore their health-related problems. It is very disheartening to accept the fact that men are also human beings, but society doesn’t treat them like one.

Saudi Arabia recently lifted the ban on women’s travel and driving. Many Islamic and Middle East countries have a wide range of restrictions on women. They are not allowed to spend time with men who are not closely related to them. Women are also subject to a limitation on the amount of makeup they wear. They are required to show their skin as limited as possible; they have to wear long cloaks and head scarfs when they move out of their house. In Saudi Arabia, girls are not even allowed to change clothes in changing room, because the sight of a disrobed women is something a man cannot handle, as stated by a Vanity Fair writer.

In Indian households, women are overburdened with responsibilities and household chores. Men are overburdened with financial needs and expectations of the society as well as the household. It is astonishing to know that in times of the pandemic, people are helping each other regardless of their culture, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. There have been many sightings where transgender folks were seen serving food to the poor and needy.

Women are getting empowered in our society, but the process is still slowly; there is a long way for them to go. Homosexuals, non-binary and transgender individuals still face the brunt of archaic norms of society.

Featured image credit: Getty Images
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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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