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“Ladhkiyon Vaali Product Nahi Hai Ye” Can We Stop Shaming Women This Way?

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Sex and its associated aspects have no place in a comfortable conversation, even in Indian urban households. Whether its sexuality, sex, menstruation and a myriad of other issues associated with one’s sexual organs, even speaking the full term ‘bra’ out loud in public for that matter, is a big-big taboo and is meant to be discussed only in hush-hush voices.

Contraception, being no exception to this group is to be discussed only behind closed doors and is to be kept away from public view. A number of youngsters rightly understanding the baseless approach of this social stigma confidently go to their nearby pharmacies seeking condoms, but are often ridiculed by the cashier or the staff.

On the occasion of  World Contraception Day, I’ve attempted to examine the intensity of this issue and tried enlisting some of the common belittling remarks the youth is bombarded with when they go to buy contraception.

“Ladhkiyon Vaali Product Nhi Hai Ye” (The Product Is Not Meant For Girls) 

The instance was detailed by a young 19-year old woman who went to buy a condom from her nearby chemist shop and was shunned away by the cashier’s assistant. I have to question whether a man buying a sanitary pad is ever told that the product is meant only for those having a uterus?

Does this shed light on how the nasty prejudice targets women specifically? Pre-marital sex is seen as a ‘slut’ marker and those indulging in it are declared as having lost all ‘chastity’. “Only if he had a little sensibility and minded his own business of selling without interfering, I would not have had a subsequent anxiety attack”, she said.

“Hearing the horrible experiences of my friends when they went to buy a condom I searched for a pharmacist with a relatively younger cashier.” Representational image

“Kitne saal ki ho” (How old are you?)

A 20-year-old woman from Amity University, Chhattisgarh, who went to a buy a Condom, was subjected to embarrassment by the cashier who asked her age in an extremely derogatory tone, in front of three other customers. “The thing I disliked the most was his authoritative tone while asking. His facial expression was as if I have committed a heinous crime by asking for a contraceptive. He did give me the product but only with a high degree of reluctance, which reflected clearly in his eyes.”, she said.

“Mai Tumhare Papa Ko Bta Doonga” (I Will Tell Your Father)

“I sent my friend to buy a condom for me. He went to his nearby pharmacy store and was shocked when the cashier said he will tell his father. I, my friend and my partner were scared till death and had to come up with a series of lies to buy a mere packet of condom”, said a student of Kirorimal College.

Using the sex-stigma of the traditional Indian households as a tool to blackmail teenagers is just another instance of the boundless grotesquerie that the Indian cashiers, driven by their flawed minds, subject the young generation to.

“Oh, That gaze, I Wished The Earth Absorbed Me”

Actions speak louder than words, is a saying we are hearing since school but its intensity was realized by a girl from Maitreyi College when she, with her friend, went to buy contraceptives. They were made extremely uncomfortable by the communicating gaze of the cashier.

“He just kept looking at us pick them and was checking out our every movement. We tried to ignore, and summoned up are courage to join the queue for payment. He fully aware of the contraception in our hand called us in the front so that each and every customer can stare at what we were buying. I curse him to this day and that’s the place we pledged of never visiting again”, she said.

Any activity which involves a girl to declaring her sexual activeness is a prohibition if she desires not to be called a ‘whore’.

In 2017, Durex targeted how buying contraception is fraught with psychological stigma in India and launched a ‘Jeans Condom’ which had a packaging of a leather badge sewn on denim jeans.

“Khata Khulega” (Someone Is Gonna Get Lucky)

“Hearing the horrible experiences of my friends when they went to buy a condom I searched for a pharmacist with a relatively younger cashier. But, I was wrong. When I asked him for it, he smirked and commented “Khata khulega”. Oh, I so wanted to punch his face”, said a second-year student of Hansraj College.

The threads of toxic masculinity weave sex and pride together to create an ‘ideal man’. Every now and then we hear people blatantly using the statement “Ladkha Jawaan ho gaya” (The boy has transformed into a man) when a male loses his virginity.

This biased approach not only results in female suppression but also puts pressure on men to initiate sexual activities just to get a tick in their checkbox of manhood. India adds up to 1,000,000 people to its population every 20 days and the abortions occurring make up for one-third of pregnancies, out of which, almost half are unplanned.

In 2017, Durex targeted how buying contraception is fraught with psychological stigma in India and launched a ‘Jeans Condom’ which had a packaging of a leather badge sewn on denim jeans.

The situation hasn’t changed much in three years. This marketing strategy brought out by the condom brand clearly reflects upon the gravity this matter holds in our country. People need to understand that creating a stigma around a basic biological need and activity, won’t stop the younger generation from having sex, but will only make them indulge in it without necessary precautions.

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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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