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“There Are Moments When I Wish I Was A Man”

Coming from a relatively protected upbringing, I have not experienced the kind of violence and discrimination that many women in our country face on a daily basis. But I happen to believe that patriarchy affects most women and men in one form or another. So if we listen to each other, no matter where we come from, women and men, all races and socio-cultural backgrounds might find common grounds and stories to share.  We as a society, in general, have allowed many social wrongs to continue as normal occurrences we need to get ‘used to’. Sexism is normalized and not nipped in the bud, and this is exactly why larger and more shocking crimes take place. The underlying problems need to be addressed and those begin early.

As a clueless teenager, and now recalling memories of the time, there are certain incidents which have changed me as a person, and I am not talking about all the positive ones. I used to roam around on my bicycle, just like a youngster would, wearing my shorts and a comfortable tee. And I remember one day, a stranger coming uncomfortably close to me and uttering a word I did not even know back then. I had to look up the meaning of the word ‘slut’ because that man had just casually passed a remark using the term because he felt that a 14-year-old biking around wearing shorts was somehow inappropriate. That incident changed my idea of what it was to be a woman, especially in our society.

Women have a complex dynamic when it comes to clothing, space and the notion of a public appearance in India. Since that day, I must say that I shrank a little, I was hurt. I never thought about clothes as a means of judgment before and now my relationship with clothing seemed to have changed. Same goes for space. Let me elaborate. The idea of owning (feeling authority or comfort in) public space is alien to a woman.

She, most of the times feels like the object of a situation or a place and not the subject. She is, after all, being looked at, and not the one looking. The gaze, mostly the male gaze makes her the object, and she has her own way of dealing with this discomfort. She will either try and project her confidence by dressing up to the expectations of others, conforming to societal norms, losing her identity at times, or play the rebel being aware of consequences that are not pleasant.

Compare the body language and sitting postures between a man and a woman at any public place in general. I saw a man, for example, the other day, sitting in front of me diagonally to the left,  at the very first seat of the bus. This gave him a chance to spread out and put his legs over the entrance railing. There he was in public transportation, sitting comfortably with his legs wide apart over a railing.

Although there is common human decency and etiquette when it comes to space in public transport, a part of me envied his brazen albeit misplaced inner confidence. As a woman, my relationship with space and the authority I felt over space was very limited. Sometimes when I sit, I also inadvertently shrink. There is that word again. Shrinking. Most of the times I must see where the dupatta is, or if my t-shirt is too low or if I am so-called ‘modest’ in my appearance so as not to provoke or offend anyone. And every day, my feeling of being part of public space shrinks.

Talk about pan stores and chai laris in the same vein. If a woman goes to any such a ‘male-dominated’ area or locality of the city, she becomes in some or the other way, a spectacle. She is made to feel uncomfortable by the intensity of stares and the number of eyeballs on her. Imagine some areas and places in a city are off-limits to you because your sex is not permitted there, in some unspoken sexist rule-book. This underlying unspoken barrier of society is something we are all so used to like women and tend to internalize. We go out in pairs and groups to share that disquiet or even worse, remain indoors within boundaries of comfort.

I went to watch a movie on my own, the other evening and could not comprehend the level of uneasiness I felt when I was stared at, for being on my own? For being a woman? There are moments when I wish I was a man. Self-confidence is not just an internal state, but a state of ease that we are responsible for and must encourage as a whole, a collective people. There is no dignity in restricting half of the population to the inside of the house or the car.  Places, experiences and the joy of life is not gender allocated.

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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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