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Dear E-Commerce Platforms, Your Diversity Policies Can’t Ignore The Customers!

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Online shopping platforms in India are yet to be fully inclusive for LGBTQIA+ consumers. It is high time that the online shopping platforms should turn into a true ally and make their consumer interface more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people

Recently I came across the news of 6 transmen who were trained by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and placed with Amazon India. Positive news like this, regarding the inclusion of queer people in corporate jobs, always filled my heart with joy. In recent years, India Inc. has opened its doors for LGBTQIA+ people.

Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community attend a Rainbow Pride Walk in Kolkata on December 13, 2015. Marching in solidarity and in celebration of their diversity, the LGBT community demanded equal legal, social and medical rights.
Representational image. Photo credits: DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images

After the historic NALSA judgment in 2014, followed by the groundbreaking judgment in the Navtej Singh Johar case, where the highest court of India decriminalized the draconian Section 377, corporates have come with open arms and included Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) policies for employees.

I am not saying that all workplaces in India have turned into queer-friendly heaven, but a significant path has been travelled so far. Corporates are changing their attitudes and aligning themselves with the new wave. It does help them, both in brand value and monetary gains.

Events like a job fair for LGBTQAI+ people are the new normal, and many companies participate in these events, hiring talent from a diverse pool. But, is it enough? Is there enough visibility of queer people in the workplace?

Well, India is a country where the representation of women in boardrooms is only 14%, and society is yet to accept the law, a country where the conversion therapy for queer people is still a thing. In a country where every day, a queer life is lost due to the societal pressure, expecting a utopian society for the queer community soon seems impractical.

Nevertheless, the significant milestones crossed are still joyous moments, giving us hope for the future. The new-age corporates, especially the e-commerce platforms, are doing a fabulous job in diversity and inclusion by being vocal supporters of the community. Here again, the question comes, is it enough? Or rather, the question we need to as is if the

As a trans person who is yet to come out to my family, friends, and colleagues, I find it difficult to purchase dresses offline. You cannot avoid people’s glares all the time. So, shopping online is the only option left. However, I had a problematic experience, online shopping.

Online shopping platforms have only 3 categories for men, women, and kids when it comes to clothing and footwear. Bodies of males and females are different, and the sizes of clothing and footwear also vary. As a pre-operated trans woman, I find it very difficult to find the perfect size in female clothes or footwear for my body. After years of online shopping, I know which clothes size fits me, but footwear is still a major headache.

Representaational image.

A young trans girl messaged me the other day asking which size dress she should buy and what footwear to get. I realized it is a problem for all. All trans people, be it trans men or trans women, start like this: In the closet, cherishing their true self in gender expression, in moments, hiding from the world.

When I started shopping online years ago, I used a trial and error mechanism. I would Google the difference in the size chart then buy it.

Even then, I would end up throwing away or changing many things. That was the main reason I used to only buy sarees at the start of my journey. Then, I figured it out and now my wardrobe is full of dresses.

Nevertheless, footwears is still a thing of worry. I am too tall and have large feet and need large size footwear. My size of female shoes is not available or is very minimal. This is not just my problem, but this is the problem of many trans persons like me.

The other, and major, loophole when it comes to diversity and inclusion in e-commerce platforms is that, on the one hand, they hire some queer people, implement some inclusive policies. But on the other hand, they restrict their customers within the binary.

Shopping apps, while registering a new account, gives only the option to select ‘Male’ and ‘Female’. Why? What about other genders? What about Non-Binary or Gender Fluid persons? When you provide the options in gender binary you are excluding the whole LGBTQIA+ community. It is discrimination.

You cannot call yourself a true ally if you have terms and conditions, and exceptions.

An organization is truly inclusive only, and only if, it includes all genders and sexuality in the workplace, market, commerce, and vendors. The moment these platforms restrict the gender of consumers within the binary-male and female, they turn themselves into a non-inclusive organization. At the workplace, they may be inclusive, but this non-inclusion of consumers takes away their claim of a true ally. Not providing options in the registration form, clothing, footwear, and other accessories for all the genders of the rainbow is queerphobia. So, dear E-commerce platforms, you are neither an ally not inclusive in a true manner.

The basics of diversity and inclusion at an organization do not only serve their social obligations but also helps in their brand value and business. No major online shopping platform in India has a separate segment for LGBTQIA+ people.

Imagine the amount of traffic an online shopping platform will get by adding a separate segment for LGBTQIA+ people! They could at least just add clothing and footwear, which are gender-neutral or different sizes, for trans people. They can just do away with the ‘men’ and ‘woman’ categories, and can bring in more diverse terms for it.

A truly inclusive and gender-neutral platform is what the LGBTQIA+ community needs and deserves.

Research after research has proven that the market of LGBTQIA+ people is far bigger than the imagination, and it is still unexplored in India. The number of online shoppers in India is expected to reach 150 million by 2025. The chunk of LGBTQIA+ customers within this simply cannot be avoided. It is high time that the online shopping platforms become true allies and make their consumer interface more inclusive for LGBTQIA+ people. It will not only help the community, it will also help the brand value and business prospect of the company.

So, dear online shopping platforms, it is time to be truly diverse and truly inclusive, not only for your employees, but also for your consumers.

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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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