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Injustice, Racial, Socio-Economic Or Gendered, Why Should We Tolerate Either?

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The year 2020 hasn’t been easy. But the challenges that are blistering the world’s skin today are mostly not because of 2020. Even the pandemic. For the pandemic itself is less of a problem than the underlying long-standing vulnerabilities—socio-economic gaps and systemic lack of investments—which have brought the world to its knees.

So, these problems are centuries old and decades-long. The start of June 2020 is flooding with unbelievable images of civilians looting on the streets amidst an ongoing global lockdown.

One of the richest zip codes of the region I now live in (pictures from where, at any other time, would show Rodeo drive-esque shops and manicured waterfronts) had people breaking glass panes and getting ‘lathi’ charged. Something I didn’t think I would ever see in Scottsdale, Arizona.

A man holding a poster that says stop killing us during protests over George Floyd's death
Hundreds of protestors march numerous blocks demonstrating against police brutality and the death of George Floyd. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

What is causing this? Is it the brutal, suffocating knee of a white police officer on the neck of a black man who had his hands tied behind his back? Or is it the disproportionate death and incarceration of black men and the systemic racism via impunity that has disadvantaged the black community in the US for ages?

Did The Civil Rights Movement End Racial Discrimination?

Not really. Like the corporate policies that make retaliation and gender discrimination illegal, but not really, for in practice they keep on happening.

Illegal, but impossible to prove in court unless as blatant as a video of cold-blooded murder in broad daylight. Worthy to note here, the accused officer in the particular case in point (now charged with murder) might still be acquitted, despite the video.

It has happened in numerous cases prior. One quick google search on ‘white officers acquitted post wrongful or questionable death of black men’ will prove this, as will a read up on Eric Garner (the other man who had died in a police choke-hold pleading ‘I can’t breathe’) and off-course the acquittal of George Zimmerman which started the Black Lives Matter movement).

Is The Pandemic Driving Scores To A Cliff?

What is causing this explosion today is pent-up suffocation forced into climaxing by an inciting incident. An incident severe enough to destabilize a delicately balanced fulcrum.

Just like Nirbhaya in 2012, India. A problem known to all—tolerated or ignored—the ones not directly affected, desensitized—not worth fighting for until a tipping point is reached.

The problem is, tipping points are tremendous, but have high human costs. More importantly, they are unsustainable and don’t lead to permanent, effective change. That is exactly why outrages have happened, yet court verdicts continue to acquit officers in the US, and rapists in India.

Let’s take the image of racial injustice for a second and put that against the images of migrant laborers walking miles—dying by the side of the roads or at railway stations. Are the images very different? Not really.

Differential treatment (which is tolerated and accepted as differentiated fate) vetted to humans by fellow humans, institutions of a nation, and really, what might seem like the entire universe (e.g. black men have a significantly lower life expectancy from even nonviolent health ailments owing to systemic lack of care and lifestyle—just like the global poor; the recent COVID outbreak in NYC and its disproportionate effect on certain communities) can be because of skin color, bank balance, gender, or last name.

Migrant Labourers
Migrant Labourers forced to walk home during the Coronavirus lockdown in India.

Just like the US knows that its black community is severely disadvantaged and discriminated against, India knows the same of her poor. We know the informal segment and their plight well — from our maids to men we see cleaning streets and climbing on bamboo poles.

But we are tolerant, waiting for images to shake our conscience. Waiting for a tipping point. Higher the desensitization and devaluation of life, more severe and shocking the inciting incident needs to be for dams to break.

But just like social justice—without systemic development of culture and behavior—has remained and will remain elusive once the dust settles.

So, the real opportunity here is not to “not be bothered by George Floyd’s death because it’s far away and we have bigger problems to care about”. Nor is it to “be bothered about racial justice overseas by placing a higher price on life and values overseas vs. inland”.

The real opportunity is to use the mirror that’s reflecting an image to shine a light on inequality in every form that we tolerate and propagate daily. If we develop intolerance to the same, without needing a trigger, we will cultivate change in behaviour. We will cultivate sustainable change.

So let’s be equally outraged by all of it and see inequality as a singular problem statement without needing the flashlight of a disastrous event.

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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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