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Misguided Perceptions of Women

The misogynistic view that women are unworthy of occupying positions of higher authority has been prevalent since times immemorial. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has proved the falsity of this belief as the occupant of the Oval Office proved pathetically inadequate to meet the challenge of the pandemic, while the countries led by Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Jair Bolsonarohad a much lower death rate than similar nations led by men. During the pandemic, female leaders generally ordered lockdown earlier, flattened the curve of the disease and adopted a more empathetic and participatory style of leadership. 

In the corporate sector, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally rose to 29% in 2019 and remains the same in 2020. However, India has the third-lowest global representation of women managers, ahead of only South Korea and Japan. The patriarchal society in these three countries fears strong and independent women and inhibits their autonomous growth. Women have to work twice as hard to overcome salary inequality and discrimination in promotions and often forfeit their career at the altar of motherhood. Exceptions to this generality are few and far-between.

Representational image/Women at the workplace.

The perception of women as being emotional and sensitive largely hinders their absorption into some fields of work that are segregated into ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’. The decision to initiate women into combat roles in the navy, the army and the air force has provided a welcome opportunity for women to break through the glass ceiling.

Many women are now emerging from different regions of India to prove their competence in the armed forces and prove the falsity of gender stereotypes.

Apart from overcoming gender barriers in the workplace, Indian women also have to combat social and cultural barriers. In several Indian families, an unmarried girl is considered a financial liability, and a father is grateful to a man who deigns to marry her and take her off his hands.

In lower-income families, the education of girls is considered an unworthy investment due to the belief that she will soon be part of another family. Girls are made to drop out of schools in their teens and start doing domestic chores to earn a pittance and contribute to household expenses.

The targeting of women is apparent in long-lasting traditions such as sati and dowry and during a rape trial. Instead of the perpetrator of the crime, the victim is asked questions such as, “Why were you there in the first place? What were you wearing? What did you say at that time? When did you realize something was wrong?” The victim is considered to have provoked the crime in some way by her words or behaviour and shamed for the trauma she has undergone.

However, we should not allow women culprits to take advantage of the prevailing patriarchy to absolve them of their crimes. Currently, the mysterious death of a Bollywood actor has provoked a heated debate about his girlfriend’s culpability. When his live-in partner is blamed by the actor’s family and a section of society of being part of a conspiracy to drug and murder him, supporters of the accused are calling it a motivated move by a patriarchal society to malign and destroy the lady.

However, any accusation, conviction or punishment meted out to a culprit should be based on evidence of guilt, regardless of gender. In this case, the condemnation of the accused cannot be called a witch hunt because it is based on incriminating evidence of the lady’s involvement in a drug cartel and her admission of it.

On the other hand, we have the current case of a famous film actor who spoke out against the current dispensation in Maharashtra due to the prevalence of widespread drug culture and the connivance of the Maharashtra Police force in its existence. When the State government demolished her newly built office under the pretext of illegal changes being implemented in the building, it was a clearly motivated political vendetta against a solitary woman who had the courage to speak out against corruption.

There has been widespread condemnation of this selective targeting since only one of about 90,000 cases of illegal construction if it was so, was demolished at 24-hours’ notice.

Until we create a level playing field for men and women and overcome gender prejudices, we will disempower one section of the population and handicap their ability to contribute to the progress of our civilization. However, we must view each case with an unprejudiced eye and not allow women to take advantage of the prevailing patriarchy to absolve them of their sins. Also, we must support courageous women who stand against the tide and speak up for the right.

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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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