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We Can’t Wait For A Miracle To Solve The Environmental Mess That COVID Created

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.
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Think of the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘environment.’ The answer, of course, varies from individual-to-individual, but I can say with some conviction that for many of us, it would not involve the area inside our houses.

The reason for this is simple. By focusing our attention solely on the overall global environmental impacts of human activities, we’ve begun to hope for singular, large-scale solutions to environmental crises.

These (e.g., global reductions in CO2 levels) are too large for us to implement alone, and so we wait helplessly for that miracle moment. However, COVID-19 pandemic has shown that this approach is passive. Immediate, small scale remedies undertaken at the individual level to environmental issues are the need of the hour—ones that can be localised to the home.

Representational image.

It’s no news that the COVID-19 pandemic took the world entirely by surprise. Underprepared, understaffed, and underequipped healthcare institutions struggled to deal with the speed and intensity of the outbreak globally. The global tally of COVID-19 cases rose from 121,000 on March 11 (when WHO declared the outbreak a global pandemic) over 20 million by early August. That’s an increase of 1600%!

To check the rapid spread of the Coronavirus, manufacturers worldwide engaged in the large-scale production of cheap plastic goods such as PPE kits, gloves, and masks. The negative environmental consequences of such processes were largely ignored. Once again, the human need was put above environmental welfare, and plastic pollution worldwide soared.

Experts fear that this will devastate natural ecosystems and wildlife across the world. Many animals are known to mistake discarded plastics as possible food items and consume them. This can have deadly consequences. What’s worse is that even if they don’t eat the plastic, they can still get harmed by it in various ways, for instance, getting strangled to death by accidentally getting fragments in their noses. 

Representational image.

There have, however, been some positives to this pandemic. As humanity struggled like never before to deal with the consequences of national lockdowns, several countries reported reduced pollution levels. Also, they saw a resurgence in their animal and plant life. Major water bodies in countries like India and China became relatively cleaner as well.

Thus, while the ongoing pandemic has served as a painful reminder of some of the world’s worst environmental crises, it has also revealed that our planet is resilient.

The Way Forward

We must quickly learn from the environmental implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last few months have demonstrated that environmental degradation and recovery are twin realities of modern existence. Our actions will decide which prevails over the other. If we are to save the planet, the time to act is now.

The home is where teens can start. Many aspects of the environment are connected with our daily domestic activities-from the food we eat, to the water we drink to even the paper we write on. Therefore, teens can contribute significantly to improving the environment by adhering to sustainable practices while doing household chores.

For instance, when learning to cook, they can pay particular attention to how much their family eats per meal. This will allow them to minimize food wastage when they make meals in the future. Cleaning too will become a less wasteful process if teens keep in mind that a single toilet flush uses 6-10 litres on average—almost three times what we drink per day.

More adventurous individuals can also begin small home gardens. This adds to the biodiversity of their area, but it will also sensitize them to the needs of local plant and shrub varieties.

Additionally, teens can also try to reduce chemical wastage in their homes. Though this is rarely looked into, most of the cleaning liquids, oils, and pesticides that we pour into kitchen sinks or gutters are incredibly harmful. They can easily contaminate water reservoirs if not properly disposed of. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is to use them in diluted solutions, especially if they are concentrates. Other prominent ways teens make the environment greener include recycling, avoiding single-use plastics, and using energy-efficient appliances.

By adopting such eco-friendly attitudes to everyday tasks, teens can also inspire positive changes in people around them. Their actions will generate awareness about environmental issues amongst family members, peers, and other acquaintances who will be encouraged to follow their lead in becoming ecologically considerate. Hence, what starts as an individual change can soon spark a collective movement.

This kind of joint participation is especially important for several environmental activists. Their message is clear: Given that the environment bears the brunt of all our actions, we can save it from further damage only if we work together. Put another way, till environmental loss becomes a matter of personal consequence, the progress we can make on related issues will be limited. And no one needs to understand this more than teens-heirs to an already ravaged world.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought us back to our houses. It’s time that the environment finds a way home too.

Featured image for representation only.
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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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