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Imagining A Better Future: Can We Have Gender Equality Post Pandemic?

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Imagine if a woman has the courage to take charge of her body, reveal the fire in her eyes, and take the world by her force.

Imagine if we were living in a world where a man was afraid of a woman taking his job. If we were living in a world where a woman walks into meetings confidently, applies for jobs she isn’t fully qualified for, and is not talked over. Where she needs no permission to do paid work and splits household work with the men in the house equally. Imagine if a woman has the courage to take charge of her body, reveal the fire in her eyes, and take the world by her force. Sounds utopian, but also simple and completely achievable. This is the world we would rather live in, but why does this reality seem so close and yet so far away?

Starting with the basics, women are just starting from a much lower base level. If two people are running a 100m race and one is starting 10m behind the starting line and has more hurdles placed on the way, the odds are stacked against them. Unfortunately, that is the plight of girls in India today for a large part, and particularly so for the “invisible girls”. Those left out, those with little opportunity and without any of the basic amenities to live by — a stable shelter, toilet, clean water, sanitary pads, and decent schooling. So, how do we get from this -10m point on the track to the finish line at 100m where we can be closer to our utopian reality?

Let’s consider the following questions first: Who is this future for? What are the things that are most essential to their well-being? What are their personal goals and ambitions? Once we have a clear idea of what our final goal is, the next step of action is understanding what needs to be done and who these efforts need to be led by to translate this vision into reality. We’ve learnt a lot of lessons during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, where women at -10m have been pushed even further behind to -15m with increased violence against them at home, worsening mental health and physical wellbeing, increased burden of child care, home-schooling and loss of livelihood for themselves and others in their family.

At Myna Mahila Foundation, adolescent girls are at the focus of our work and it is their interests, goals, and challenges that frame both our vision and plan for the future.

What could the future look like for a 14-year-old girl?  

  1. Access to clean and safe toilets
  2. Access to affordable menstrual hygiene products
  3. Breakdown of stigma around mental health with support easily available
  4. Appropriate schooling, where she is inspired to learn more and lead a career of her own.
  5. An environment that encourages and roots for young girls and allows them to thrive, including their home environment, with their fathers and brothers contributing to her growth equally

How can this future be achieved? 

Starting with sexual and reproductive health as a foray into other issues! This can look like:

  1. Creation of safe spaces that cultivate a sense of community and belonging
  2. Access to free, accurate, non-judgemental, and destigmatized information about sexual and reproductive health and rights
  3. Digitally accessible guidance – accessible even in remote areas
  4. Increasing future employability, agency within and outside their households

Lessons from the Pandemic: 

  1. Urgent need for telehealth services, which can allow people to access medical advice even from their homes
  2. Rethinking delivery mechanisms for the provision of healthcare services so that remote locations can be catered to
  3. Clear communication around taboo topics to able to recognize them in the first place, whether it be mental health or menstrual hygiene

Where do these efforts come from? 

  1. Ideation: Through dialogue that helps discuss these issues from a wide range of perspectives to formulate thoughtful interventions. Myna Mahila Foundation does this every year through our annual conference “Myna Speaks” that brings together representatives from the government, international organizations such as UNFPA, UNICEF, Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, NGOs, researchers, and urban slum communities to discuss challenges and solutions relating to women’s health. This year’s Myna Speaks is scheduled to be on the 25th of July and will be streamed 10 am IST onwards on Myna Mahila Foundation’s Facebook page linked here – register for the conference here!
  2. Support for the cause of women’s health: Through individual voices that speak out against taboos and monetary donations that enable us to impact the lives of girls by providing access to menstrual hygiene products and shifting behavior! In this regard, we have launched our #PledgeAPeriod campaign, through which we aim to raise awareness and support 2 million menstruating women & girls in India with menstrual hygiene access and health education! To learn more about the campaign & to donate, click on the link here
  3. Implementation: Through years of sustained action and establishing trust and legitimacy within the communities that are the focus of our work.

All these efforts can start pushing the needle and handholding women from -15m to 0m, when they are more ready to take on their peers and compete at par. When women and men stand at the same baseline, at the same 0m, men are likely to be equally afraid of losing to women, and women have more courage to remove the additional hurdles on their track permanently, running to the finish line at least as quickly as others can.

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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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