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Why I Think We Desperately Need Queer Youth In Public Office

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Delhi University elections are one of the major students’ elections of the country, DU as a political space is one of the most prominent spaces in India. Most of the current or former politicians were once student leaders in their respective states. This makes us understand the importance of student elections. However, DU is yet to see a queer office bearer. Over the years, DU’s politics is becoming more and more caste and money-oriented. Elections in DU are more about money and muscle power than issue-based politics.

In contrast to this, AUD and JNU set examples of issue-based politics during their students’ elections. For DUSU, student wings affiliated to big parties focus on organizing trips to water parks, distributing movie tickets, organising fresher parties, etc to gather votes instead of raising prominent student issues. These are the parties that are thought to most likely to win. DUSU is a reflection of mainstream politics as they focus on the methods to win elections more than the reasons to win elections.

It is notable that most of the student wings in DU do not cater to the needs of the queer community and speaks up about the community during special occasions like valentines’ day or pride month. Having queer representatives become more necessary than ever before as homophobia, transphobia is on an all-time high during the pandemic.

I contested two elections during my graduation at SPM College, Punjabi Bagh which was a learning experience. My experience taught me many things including how most of the people try to use sexual orientation as an excuse to attack, troll, and harass queer people. The heteronormativity in Delhi University lives queer community vulnerable. Many women development cells and societies make efforts to keep the campuses inclusive such as Dyal Singh College, Hansraj College to name a few but in most of the Delhi university colleges, the reality still differs. For many of my voters, my orientation didn’t matter, what mattered is how much work I have done and how much more I can do if I got elected. But for my opponents, it was an opportunity to rumor monger and make personal attacks. Having cis privileges and not being visibly queer somewhere favoured me and it speaks volumes about how those who do not have same privileges as me will suffer on the campuses due to lack of acceptance, casteism, and other forms of oppression

My interaction with fellow queer students of campuses also varies. Those in well off colleges had to face the least homophobia while those who were in off-campus colleges faced it the most and were more likely to stay in the closet. While starting AIQA, the All India Queer Association, I focused on making state units instead of college units to connect all people from all colleges as a whole. colleges in some states do not hold elections and campaigning there for queer issues becomes an uphill task. Another part of my experience was how fellow queers look up to each other in the time of need. Contesting elections meant bringing pride to our community, to have our voices heard, to create a bigger table for everyone to sit together. Being queer and an activist on campus also brought acceptance and awareness for the community, and helps in identifying homophobes in campus.

The common issues for our community remain the same, lack of acceptance, bullying and harassment, lack of campus assistance for studies and placements, casteism, class hatred, sexism, moral policing to name a few. Unionizing the community through AIQA made me realize how intersections within the community are needed to be identified and respected.

Apart from student politics, mainstream politics also need queer representation, not only on streets but also in parliament. Issues like unemployment, poverty, the disease affect queer people too but our issues have their roots in discrimination against us.

For example, the current Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act does not have reservations for trans individuals in educational institutions which could have uplifted many lives. There is an erasure of other identities too as they aren’t considered in the act itself.

The approach in managing the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t focusing on combating discrimination against queer patients.

There is no policy for the Hijra community’s economical empowerment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harassment and domestic violence towards queer people are rising during the healthcare crisis and it is not even acknowledged by the current government.

There is a high probability that our issues would have been raised if people from our community were holding public office. I am not advocating voting for someone because they are queer, I am advocating support queer leaders who can make a difference by holding public office. Discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community is a barrier that we all can shatter by being together and supporting each other. Policies for the community along with adding intersections in the pre-existing policies and acts can help the community better. To have a better approach during the decision-making process, it becomes important to have people who will be affected by those decisions involved. Each state has some set of common issues when it comes to queer community but they also have different issues that need to be raised, acknowledge, and sorted at the local level. Last year we launched “queer manifesto” around 2019 elections demanding attention to basic issues of our community. It helped many parties understand what we want.

You can read more about AIQA here. Find AIQA on Facebook.

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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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