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We Need To Break The Societal Constructs That Promote Misogyny

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My heart is heavy, hence I write.

“There are far too many silent sufferers. Not because they don’t yearn to reach out, but because they’ve tried and found no one who cares.”

Richelle E. Goodrich

As the conundrum of this nationwide lockdown reaches its 46th day, I have sat down to give words to one of the most intimate topics to me, but yet something that I rarely write about. My inability to pen down all the chaos that engulfs my mind is due to the numbness after I ponder upon abuse in general, of any form, and in realization is the pain that we have failed to do anything about it and might never be able to—owing to the course of events that have been taking place across the globe off-late.

Understanding how can we be victims of such oppression for so long, runs a chill down my spine and registers in me a sense of hopelessness that might take a long while to go. This article is all about hopelessness. So, very recently, all my fears of abuse came afloat when the Bois locker room chat went viral, I was appalled by the audacity of these educated teens.

We Need To Stop Normalising These Conversations

Hence, I started to retrospect what leads to such kind of words/actions or for that matter, the thought of inflicting pain on others. One thing that we have been easily passing off is that these are troubled minds or their upbringing or level of education is not adequate to have a check on their actions.

After this episode blew up, we were forced to delve deeper into how we are normalizing such conversations, but this is, unfortunately, not just one instance, there are thousands of people who, both virtually and physically, follow the lineages of patriarchy, entitlement and the luxury of being the dominant gender.

The long-lived myth of lack of rationality in uneducated individuals leading them to become uncultured and disillusioned in life was also busted when the so-called liberals of Twitter, working over wifis breaks, opened a series of slanderous remarks on a Jamia Milia Islamia University scholar and activist Safoora Zargar, more than three months pregnant and currently lodged in New Delhi’s Central Tihar jail.

Post-Amnesty International’s call to free the young activist out of jail, scores of people on Twitter let loose the filth inside their brains into trolls for the activist, speaking utterly out of context and questioning her character, allegedly asking her if she was married and advising her to use a condom.

safoora, UAPA, delhi police, delhi roits, jamiya, saheen bagh, social media
Safoora during a protest.

With each passing day as uncertainty, worthlessness, and indecisiveness rises, so do the stress and anxiety levels amongst the masses, and the ones who bear the brunt of these ‘outbursts’ is, unfortunately, women.

The gender that is overworked and underpaid and is expected to be more perfect or sorted, by default adjusting to exploitation; the one whose fundamental job is to look after everything from managing online work to children to attending the elderly and of course their dominant counterparts.

They are the ones who are subjected to the most severe form of trauma if anything goes haywire.

Hence, as gloominess looms over our minds and people are locked inside, devoid of work, this atmosphere gives rise to stress which was easier to vent earlier with a leisure stroll outside or by playing/travelling outdoors, but now, as several confused and anxious minds reside inside four walls, quarrels and indifferences create cleavages that give rise to abuse.

But several reports from across the world reveal that this problem is not indigenous to India, many countries are witnessing a surge in domestic violence cases such as Russia, Europe, the US, and some Asian countries too. But the problem does not arise out of the pandemic, it may become double or magnify during this period, but to gauge the real cause of such suppression is a long trudged past of adjusting to social constructs that are perpetuated even today.

No matter how much we think we have resolved our problems with the advent of technology and modernisation, we haven’t been able to address this issue ever. While people are calling out misogynistic tendencies and shaming this culture, there is an ardent need to focus on transforming the way we teach our children.

We might see several lockdowns time and again, but that should never be an excuse for anyone to take the liberty of being in a position to exploit others, just because they have access to better resources, autonomy or privilege in the society. There is an urgent need to restructure minds and the constructs that have dominated, or else we’ll just be a bunch of distorted minds with robotic bodies running the wheel of life.

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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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