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Coronavirus Has Exposed The World To Two Deadlier Viruses: Xenophobia And Racism

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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.

People thought they knew what a pandemic entailed: loss, misery and an overall downward slope in the graph of everything between the happiness index to GDP growth. The novel coronavirus, however, has unveiled realities that humans thought could remain hidden behind the cloak of a gruesome disease. The past few months have been characterised by a paroxysm of antagonistic practices that have made matters of mortality rate and recoveries seem nothing more than trivial.

While one would expect people to be more sensitive, more compassionate, and generally more supportive of each other during these unprecedented times, humanity has digressed to an entirely polar path. Sensitivity has been ‘trumped’ by antipathy; compassion has been cremated by insouciance, and support has been crippled by egotism. World over, the coronavirus has made xenophobia and marginalisation of ‘inferior’ communities a more enduring phenomenon than the virus itself. It is almost as if the virus isn’t the disease, we are.

On one hand, we have researchers and experts who have made it their sole mission to come out with a vaccine as soon as possible in order to bring peace and stability to the world today. On the other hand, leaders including Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo have made racial fanaticism an overarching feature of all their addresses, which apparently are made in the ‘best interest of the people.’ Not only has Trump coined Covid-19 as a ‘China virus’, he also, according to Factbase, mentioned the term more than 20 times in less than two weeks. Moreover, Pompeo went to the extent of demanding the scrapping of the joint G7 statement, as many of the member nations refused to refer to the disease as the ‘Wuhan Virus’.  

Not only has Trump coined Covid-19 as a ‘China virus’, he also mentioned the term more than 20 times in less than two weeks. 

The fanaticism does not stop there.

Following the example of their political leaders, citizens around the globe have shunned Asians in every way possible. Even in India, citizens having roots in the northeastern part of India, as well as migrant labourers from the neighbouring countries of Nepal and Bhutan, have been labelled as ‘carriers’ of the virus and ostracised at their places of work or residence.

Furthermore, the term ‘coronavirus’ has been incorporated by people into their daily vocabulary as a racial slur towards people having ‘Chinese resemblance’. Over the past few months, countless instances of people defaming and insulting people from the Northeast by calling them ‘Corona’ have, yet again, shown humanity’s knack for bringing the worst out of a situation.

However, friction against the apparent ‘carriers’ of the disease is only one part of the spectrum of xenophobic activities that have surged with the existence of the coronavirus. Existing tensions between communities have also been exacerbated by the evils of mankind who have used the pandemic as an opportunity to further their own extremist aims. Even when people are struggling for survival, partisanship and radicalism have developed creative ways of thriving, as was exhibited by the discrepancy in the lack of coverage and the flack given to the incidents of ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ and ‘Amarnath Yatra’. 

Why is it that people were so ‘woke’ about their safety during the congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat, but equally silent when the government approved of the Amarnath Yatra? Why were people so firm when it came to remembering that there were 4,500-9,000 people who had attended the former gathering, but were equally unperturbed in acknowledging the fact that there were going to be at least 2,000 people attending the Yatra each day, for over 10 days? What makes one congregation more ‘threatening’ than the other? What makes us think that one congregation would ensure better ‘social distancing’ and produce lesser cases related to it in the future than the other? We know the answer. But we won’t say.

Coronavirus is not the only virus that humanity is combatting right now. Thus, social distancing and maintaining personal hygiene aren’t (good) enough solutions for us to survive. Xenophobia and racism need to be eradicated, and not something to be used as a ‘cure’ or even precaution for a disease, which paradoxically worsens with its effect.

Note: The article was originally published here

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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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