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6 Lessons From The ‘Notorious’ RBG That Will Inspire Us For Generations

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The year 2020 has been full of lessons for us. On 19th September, one of the most iconic figures and a role model for young women and men, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. I felt so upset by the simple fact that this is it. That this is all we get to hear from the infamous Notorious RBG (a name given to her given her continuous dissent and liberal rulings) for as long as we will live. That I would never hear her quaint soft voice of reason stirring people in the right direction again.

I spent my morning revisiting her documentary on Netflix and just like the first time, it had a profound impact on me. Some of the things she said would probably be termed “too liberal” “too feminist” “irrelevant for this day and age” etc. But that’s the thing, right? As society progresses and time passes, we have to incorporate the principles of what great thinkers like her have said, in this case, dissented, and modify it to the very real situations we face today such as reproductive rights, gender pay gap, political representation etc.

As I try to recreate her journey as a girl, a lawyer, a judge and a spouse I am going to try and draw a conclusion hoping that the reader would understand why young women at the starting line of their careers and lives feel especially disheartened on this fated day.

While there are disturbing well, almost scary implications of her passing especially on the US election, this is just an insight into the kind of person she was and her beliefs and ideas as a female lawyer of her time. I believe that her story will give us the strength we need to power through all the difficulties we are bound to face if things go the wrong way, not just in these elections but the future of humanity as a whole.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the 2nd woman to be appointed as a judge in the United States Supreme Court. She has been a formidable influence in changing gender biased laws and norms in the USA. She used her expertise as a legal professional to fight cases of gender-based discrimination both for men and women. She was a fierce believer of liberal values and propagated the same through exceptional hard work and charisma.

Lessons From Mother

She says that the two lessons that she learnt as a girl from her mother were: “Be a lady and be independent“. In her life, Ruth had faced multiple remarks and casual sexist comments for she worked at a time when men just did not understand what women wanted. They couldn’t fathom that women could want more than to be housewives or mothers.

At that time, Ruth was a lady. A calm and dignified lady who, in her own words, saw the ridicule and mockery by men in court “as teaching moments” or an “opportunity to teach kindergarten students” rather than resorting to anger. This, I believe, is a great takeaway for women like me, who tend to lose it a little when confronted by whether right-wing conservatives or just ignorant people in general.

By independent, she meant that she could get married and be a homemaker for all it took, but it was important to be able to fend for yourself when the time came.

Lessons As a Lawyer Fighting Against Gender-Based Discrimination

As a lawyer, her first case was against gender-based discrimination in Fontiero v. Richardson, in front of the nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court. She talked about women being branded as inferior and the struggles of being second class citizens in a country that guaranteed equal protection of laws and liberty in its Constitution.

She quoted Sarah Grimke, a noted women rights advocate, who said in 1837 something that most of us still resonate with today, “I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

In Wienberger v. Wisenfeld she advocated the right of a man to maternity allowance and used this phenomenal legal strategy to make her point about gender-based discrimination. She famously also said, “The gender line helps to keep women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.” When asked how many justices she wanted to see on the bench of the Supreme Court she said, “Why not 9?” She believed if no one ever questioned 9 men being on the bench then why should 9 women be any different. That is the dream she saw for the future while she made history.

Lessons As A Judge, Won Women Their Equal Right To Enter The Military

As a judge, she took bold and powerful decisions and in the case against Virginia Military Institute, an all-boys military school, that did not allow women to enter as cadets declared, “Some women can meet the physical standards VMI imposes on men, are capable of all the activities required of VMI cadets, and would want to attend VMI if they had a chance. This opinion does mark as presumptively invalid a law that denies women an equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society based on what they can do.”

An important statement that broke the centuries-old bias that women are just not as strong or as tough as men. Today, VMI has many female cadets.

In the landmark equal pay case that the Supreme Court accepted discrimination but rejected compensation merely based on the case not being filed at the right time Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not shy away from expressing dissent. She stated in her dissenting opinion “The Court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination. Congress intended to govern real-world employment practices and that world is what the Court ignores today. Initially, you may not know that men are receiving more. Only over time is there a strong cause to suspect that discrimination is at work.”

Photo: Forbes

Recognise Injustice, And Then Correct It

This led to the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. She makes an important point that is worthy of our attention here. It is that you might not realize that you are being discriminated against in the real-world practices because they are so ingrained in our society. And that when such injustice comes to light, it should be rectified immediately.

The work and life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an inspiration for women across the world. She lived in a time when sex discrimination was not even considered a problem let alone being addressed by the judges of the time. She used her skills to be heard and to break barriers for women across the USA.

Being shy or reserved is often seen as a weakness in the current society. Ruth is a perfect example of what a woman could achieve if she chose to use the resilience and dignified calmness she exhibited throughout her lifetime.

She always talks about the exceptional support she received from her partner, Marty. His support and love were so deep and true that he never felt threatened by her success, in fact, he was to a large extent, the reason for it. They lived a beautiful life together and Marty was a successful lawyer and they brought up their children in a household where workload always shared equally. There is so much to learn from her domestic life as well as her professional achievements.

I hope that some of these ideas moved you as much as they moved me. Her life is an inspiration for those of us who know that there is still a long way to go for equality and those who come from restricted and traditional communities and cultures.

Feminism in South Asia is terribly misinterpreted today and I hope that some of my favourite sayings by this iconic woman helps you understand feminism and fight for equal rights for women in your own surroundings. Like she famously said, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Unfortunately, she won’t be around passing quirky remarks and wearing her beautiful lace neckties at Court anymore however her work is timeless and will continue to inspire women and men to stand up for what they believe in, for generations.

Featured image: Time
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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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