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Whom Does The Onus Of Unlearning Stereotypes Of The LGBTQ+ Community Lie On?

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Without sounding cynical, I’ll begin by addressing the white elephant in the room of most LGBTQ+-based discussions — the verdict of  decriminalisation of homosexuality should’ve come much before it did, but there is only so much mourning that we can do over it. I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of India’s youth at a time when my nation has more of the LGBTQ+ community in the zeitgeist and is steering somewhat towards the right direction. Only, captains at the wheel and along with their crew get replaced frequently, and our ship depends a lot on their progressive or regressive intent.

For now, let’s yay to the Supreme Court’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality, but let’s keep this cheer momentary. The first step has been initiated, but we stand upon the brink of a rather long journey. To adjudicate justice and human rights is imperative, but we heave our sighs of relief more often than we should. The more privileged ones amongst us retreat into their velvety cocoons and breathe in nirvana within sound-proof windows and conditioned air.

We don’t feel the brunt of legal amendments as much or as rapidly as our lesser privileged counterparts, but should we arrive upon this realisation, it is time for us to dispense our privilege towards furthering our collective journey towards greater gender justice in India.

It sounds more utopian than it would in practice, considering the blatant fact that most parts of our nation are yet to treat all genders equally, let alone all sexual orientations. When a liberal patriot considers this glaring aspect of reality, its tragedy amplifies, considering India’s numerous cultural blunders of disavowing its very essence. In other words, the very ethos of diversity, acceptance and resilience forms the very core of Indian society, and countless inferences from our rich past testify this.

To spread its ancient wisdom of multifarious power to the wider populace, Indian culture and tradition outstretch itself in the form of queer communities such as the Ardhanareshwara, Mohini, Brihanalla and Shikandi, to name but a few.

As is the case in most mainstream narratives, propaganda shunts dissenting factors to the periphery of discourse in its hegemonised plan of action. However, we live in interesting times when subaltern voices are reclaiming these alternative narratives that had been neglected for the better part of recent history. This is not to say that our society doesn’t continue to remain negligent, but it might be safe to say that we are less negligent than we were earlier.

After all, standing at the culmination of a decades-long battle for gender justice, our privilege carries greater weight than we are willing to accept. Our current unwillingness to accept that a tedious journey lies ahead of us bears its roots partially in an impending fear that goes beyond the legal domain. The declaration of human rights shines at an overarching height above its grassroots implementation. While both of these entail an exhaustive pursuit, they also evolve constantly while conditioning one another.

Without delving into a vast whirlpool of question marks, it might be useful to impart an incentive-based perspective to my esteemed readership. Since most of us owe our presence on YKA to privilege in some form or the other, to undertake basic incentives by perceiving ourselves as the law, our smallest acts gain a responsibility that they might have lacked earlier. For example, to simply joining the gender justice bandwagon isn’t enough. We must fuel its progression by embodying the gender justice that we seek.

It is more convenient to adopt hostility towards a person who lacks gender sensitivity because we attribute more of their conduct to choice and less to conditioning. The moment we gauge the extent of someone’s conditioning, we open ourselves up to the possibility of treating this other person’s prejudice with empathy. This is not to imply that prejudice can be compartmentalised solely into unassuming ignorance or lack of awareness. But empathising with prejudiced individuals as regards their ignorance and lack of awareness (but not their opinion) opens the possibility of being able to stir changes in the prejudiced attitude.

As an example, while hearing some prejudiced friends make atrocious speculations on gender issues, my inner feminist cringed at first. But then, I imagined a role reversal. Had I not had my experiences, privilege, exposure, outlook and of course, series of choices, I too could have been this prejudiced person. But the good news is, I am not this person. What now? It is way easier now to react in a way that is devoid of hostility or anxiety.

In this way, I embody a tenet of gender justice: if prejudice is to be driven away, one dispenses with everything that is prejudicial. I, and many like me, have come a long way in discovering ourselves, and some of our prejudiced contemporaries are yet to pursue their existentialist journeys with honesty. But most of them resist heterodoxy in some form or the other out of fear and speak for the very advocates of shaming that they fear.

The onus of changing their mindsets or outlooks towards a more liberal direction does not reside solely upon our shoulders, assuming this only serves to exhaust. Instead, while the mindset of others is their sole prerogative, conducting ourselves within their environment is ours. In choosing agency over complacency and voice over compliance, whether at a dinner table conversation or at work, sure takes courage, but it is the need of the present hour and the tireless hours that are to follow.

May each one of us realise the importance of this choice. It will be pillars on the foundations that our brave predecessors built, and may we never stop being hopeful that our nation will evolve into a kinder one. And most importantly, may each one of us be that hope.

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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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