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?
Access to clean and safe toilets
Access to affordable menstrual hygiene products
Breakdown of stigma around mental health with support easily available
Appropriate schooling, where she is inspired to learn more and lead a career of her own.
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:
Creation of safe spaces that cultivate a sense of community and belonging
Access to free, accurate, non-judgemental, and destigmatized information about sexual and reproductive health and rights
Digitally accessible guidance – accessible even in remote areas
Increasing future employability, agency within and outside their households
Lessons from the Pandemic:
Urgent need for telehealth services, which can allow people to access medical advice even from their homes
Rethinking delivery mechanisms for the provision of healthcare services so that remote locations can be catered to
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?
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!
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
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.