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Pride And Prejudice

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If you don’t know what this is about, don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you. Most of us have been following this news story in a state of utter bewilderment, trying to make sense of the general chaos. In case you’re wondering what the hullabaloo is all about, let me do a quick recap.

It all started with a tweet by beloved children’s author, J.K Rowling. An article with the title “Creating a more equal post-Covid19 world for people who menstruate” was retweeted. Rowling pointed out the apparent redundancy of using the phrase “People who menstruate” instead of saying, I don’t know, women? And it was like a lit match to gasoline.

The explosion after that caught us all off-guard. Admit it, no matter whose side you’re taking, you know you didn’t see this coming. It was like people were lobbing acid bombs at her, their tweets were so vitriolic. It took a long time for me to figure out what exactly had happened and I’m sure, silently, off social media, you are asking yourselves the same question.

What went wrong?

For this we need to look at the phrase “People who menstruate” as a gender-neutral, inclusive and diverse phrase. This means cisgender women who menstruate, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual and asexual women who menstruate, non-binary folks who menstruate and trans women who menstruate. The article wanted to reach out to everyone. OK, we got that. Just out of interest, when the U.N launches a period campaign to make feminine hygiene products accessible to ‘girls’ and ‘women’ living in poverty, are you calling them out on it? Oh, but it’s just easier to get to J.K Rowling. She takes the time to respond to everyone doesn’t she, from children’s drawings of characters to grown-ups reading her books to their children.  So let’s take her down a peg shall we?

When I started reading Op-Eds from leading newspapers across the globe, calling Rowling a transphobe, telling her to shut up, asking her to put the pen down- I tried to look at the context of the tweet. Had she specifically targeted someone? Maybe she was ‘shading’ a trans activist? Could she be using her public platform as a soapbox to tear somebody down? I couldn’t find anyone that she had tweeted at. Just this article she’d quoted with her characteristic dry humour. So why were hundreds upon hundreds raging at her?

What exactly did Rowling say? I really want to know. What was it that brought on the ire? She talked about using the word ‘Women’. Well, she’s a prolific writer. Writers often pick apart words and remake them. Is it bias if she does so? Was it her intent to deny the existence of the trans community or was it to assert the existence of women, who menstruate? If you’re a trans woman, I presume the word ‘woman’ would include you? Why are you so offended by the word ‘woman’ then?

Because you’re a trans woman and a human. You have the right to your opinion. You have the right to a safe space. You have a voice.

So does she. She is a woman and a human. She is also entitled to her opinion and has the right to a safe space. She can be right or wrong, but she deserves respect for everything she’s done: a franchise that shared the universal message of hope, love, tolerance, peace and above all, courage. For being a teacher. For being a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault. For fighting Depression all her life. For being a philanthropist who has her own charity organisation that protects orphaned children from institutionalisation and reunites them with their families or finds them loving homes. For someone who supports the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic for Multiple Sclerosis Patients. What she doesn’t deserve is a British tabloid with the headline “I slapped Joanne and I’m not sorry for it”. 

And what did you do today, other than call her a c*nt, a b*tch and a c*cksucker?

There’s an Instagram post that’s going around that talks about why we need ‘Pride’ and while I fully back the movement, here is why I think that post is erroneous. One, yes, straight people are not murdered for being straight, but have you heard about the religious riots that rocked the capital this year? Muslims were murdered for being Muslim. Yes, straight people do not have to fight for the right to marry. But have you heard about Dalits being murdered in honour killings due to inter-caste relationships? Yes, you don’t hear kids say “That’s so straight” as an insult. But do you hear them participate in locker room talk about raping young girls? Yes, it’s never been illegal to be straight. But do you know about the immigrants in India that are denied their nationality?

As long as there is patriarchy, there will always be bigotry, sexism, racism, casteism…. we must not forget that we are on the same side. We are all fighting for equality and we can do this without blasting our way through the crowd.

During this pandemic, the UN has reported that women are even more at risk at home, outside and online than ever before. Domestic abuse, sexual assault and spousal homicide rates are skyrocketing while a significant increase has been noticed in online stalking, bullying and harassment. I don’t want to be a TERF right now (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) because I know that this UN statistic impacts women and girls as much as it does members of the LGBTQIA community.

When Kevin Fallon of the Daily Beast reached out to Laverne Cox, the actress and activist, she had probably the sanest comment on the controversy:

“The ‘divide and conquer’ method of pitting women’s rights against the rights of trans people has been a very effective tool for dividing marginalised people. So then what we’re seeing in that moment…..is that we are pitting marginalised communities against each other. I think if we are smart as trans people, as people of colour, as women, we will see that these things do not get us closer to the justice that we need for everybody” 

The trans community has been tyrannised, silenced, negated, bullied and ‘cancelled’. But how are they different from their oppressors? Is this how they show their pride, by cancelling Rowling? Is this how they proclaim their ‘love is love is love’ banner? By spewing bile, by spreading hate, by propagating misogyny? Have the abused become the abusers now?

Let me explain it to you through a simple story. I’m a gender equality and mental health activist. At my job, I often see cases of abuse and assault. More than anything, I see the cycle of abuse and it is something which is very hard to break. Let’s say, my client is an alcoholic man who often beats up his wife. His son grows up with a mental illness and is later arrested for killing his wife. His son, grows up to be a drug addict who eventually dies of an overdose. You see what I’m saying? Where does the abuse end?

At what point, does one person, because it only takes one, foray into this quagmire and offer to act as a mediator? When does this one person, choose to stand out from the crowd and instead of piling on, start a conversation where both feminists and trans activists can talk about uniting to fight for their rights and not each other? How long do we have to wait for the ‘woke’ messiah to arrive, who can facilitate a peaceful dialogue about cultivating empathy and compassion for one another and for becoming better allies?

Before you choose a cause, let me make a suggestion, lead with kindness. You cannot stand for love and stand for hate at the same time. You can speak up for yourself and still not be a bully.

Or, you can be like the cast of Harry Potter who fell like a line of dominoes; pandering to the public, stoking the fires of hate, using divisive politics for publicity and basically earning ‘woke’ cookies. I’m glad they’ve got their cookies, because they certainly don’t have their careers. That is some consolation, I suppose.

We have a brief window, you and I, to educate ourselves away from this media feud. To listen and to talk. To set an example for everyone that human rights are not like a pie- giving it to someone doesn’t take it away from others. This table is big enough for all of us to gather around and have an open conversation about our shared realities.

The question is, will you throw down your molotov cocktail of a tweet and come and sit next to me?

 

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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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