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Does Being A Woman Mean Judgement Forever, No Matter How You Look Or What You Do?

Last week, I received a random message from someone I used to go to school with. It was late at night; I was on my third drink, binge-watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy. Was it Saturday? Or perhaps, Friday night, I forget. Does anyone really remember what day it is anymore?

He asked if I would like to join a WhatsApp group, a sort of ‘reunion’ for old batchmates from school I last met or spoke with 17 years ago. Some of them I still wanted in my life and are in my life even today. We might not be 3-AM-friends, but we do manage to catch up occasionally. “Ah, what the hell, let’s do it!”, I messaged him. Perhaps, it was the unstable, fragile mental and emotional state that I was in, or the number of vodka-cranberries I had by then; I agreed to join the group.

After joining, I figured I only had three phone numbers stored in my contact list out of the too-many-to-count group members, explained how WhatsApp groups actually function to the guy who added me, and then tried to decipher if I remember anyone at all. It was then while scrolling through the messages to catch up on what kind of discussion was happening, I stumbled on how some of them discussed about me.

We called her a stick with a potato on the head”, someone had said, referring to my former, fourteen-year-old self.

Does being a woman means to be judged forever, no matter how you look or what you do?

A “friend” I grew up with, someone I chose to still be in touch with, who was an essential part of my wedding ritual, had written it. It took me a minute to come to terms with what had just happened. I had completely forgotten about it after school. For a few seconds, I felt a solid punch in my gut—that same pang from all those years ago. Not detailed memories of those days, but I remembered how it felt then being embarrassed, awkwardly uncomfortable—as if I were lesser than my girlfriends in some way. It all rushed back to me in a second. Those sharp taunts gave me shudders back then too, but I never said anything aloud because, you know, we were all “friends’’. Of course, I didn’t know better.

I read on. A couple of women on the group chose to discuss my figure further: “I was wondering when you will say this”, “she still maintains it”, another added, “she is hot now”. I also learnt a couple of these women teach little school kids. The irony laughed at my face while I took some time to get over the initial stillness in my body I had felt.

So, before leaving that group, I decided to call him out and the others for joining in to discuss my body, instead of, let’s see—my work—on a public group, in front of about a hundred random people, who I either didn’t know or had forgotten. Not surprisingly, a few of the men were too quick to jump in and justify his action as simply a friendly banter. When he personally messaged me to apologize with a justification that it was indeed a “silly joke”, which he never thought would hurt me and how he admired me now, I took a moment to myself to wish for a better, less misogynistic world for his daughter to grow up in.

Body shaming is not new. Especially, in these trying, frustrating times, some men have taken a rather special interest in belittling women for the way they look, while tripping on the age-old fantasy of women’s elusive ‘perfect body’. The fact that men are now trying to justify it under the garb of a casual joke or ‘being silly’ is profoundly pathetic and downright regressive. It’s 2020! Can we still hide behind the veil of ignorance?

Body shaming is not new, neither is ignorance or feigned innocence about it!

Normalising misogyny is like the wind or the sun, we know it’s there, but we don’t discuss or bother too much about it, unless it suddenly decides to pour thunderously or someone dies due to the scorching, unbearable heat.

Watch your waistline during this lockdown!” a friend of mine was advised when she mentioned to her friend about her craving a specific dessert while being trapped at home. A meme on social media read, “Salons are closed. Eyebrows in the air! A lot of them are turning into Krur Singh (a character with thick, furry brows from one of the old Indian TV serials, Chandrakanta) when they look into mirrors nowadays!”.

There are innumerable instances of men brazenly airing their misogyny out in public. At the same time, we somehow try to cope with our daily anxieties and unshakable fear of impending doom due to a global pandemic. In fact, women participate in it more often than we accept, acknowledge, or anticipate. A known singer recently posted on social media how she is oh-so-bothered by women of certain weight posting their dance videos because apparently it “lacks aesthetics and is just gross”.

It’s been the same story for way too long.

“How are you still so thin? Aren’t you married?” I have never understood what that means. It’s been years since I got married, but this question never stops coming at me from older women, every time I visit home in Calcutta. Whether it’s some of my extended family or my parents’ neighbours, they never fail to take a particular interest in my weight. I don’t get it, should I let go of my body or puff out disproportionately now that I have a stable man in my life?

Visit a few Bengali households, at some point or the other you will hear someone say to a young girl — “Exercise kor, bicchiri mota hoye jacchis (work out, you’re getting disgustingly fat!).” Visit any household in almost any part of the country, and you will witness girls being berated with “If you don’t stop chomping on food all the time, who is going to marry you?” or “You’re depriving yourself with the wrong attitude and misplaced priorities!” or some such.

When everyone from Jennifer Aniston to Priyanka Chopra to Miley Cyrus to Vidya Balan is constantly being judged and body shamed, is this even a battle we can win? Does being a woman means to be judged forever, no matter how you look or what you do? Where does it end, or when?

Anyway, the world seems determined to torture us, so I say—fuck being perfect—go for that dessert, or choose not to, women—because, whether you finish it or not—someone will always be ready to judge you. Never let a hater kill your good vibes. So, throw caution to the winds, fill up that cocktail glass, and just do what your heart tells you to do. Life is simply too short; we know now more than ever.

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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.

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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.

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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