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Cliche But True: My Mum Was The Teacher Who Taught Me About Feminism

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To the one who (unknowingly) showed me how to be a feminist.

It is said that a parent is a child’s first teacher and though it is an old, maybe cliché line, it is the biggest truth of my life.

Mom, you were born at a time when the term ‘feminism’ was not commonly heard, yet, throughout my life, you have laid the foundation for me to be a steadfast feminist. More importantly, you’ve done that not by saying, but by being.

You weren’t allowed to follow your aspirations, but you pledged to let me walk the path I chose. You never expected me to be an engineer, doctor or MBA graduate, instead always encouraged me to discover myself and follow my heart. When I chose to study communication and later decided to work in the social sector, everyone told me that I was being naïve and making wrong choices, but not you. You saw that I was passionate about my work and not only supported me but also helped me believe in myself every time I felt like giving up. That strength to own my choices, I learnt from you.

mother and daughter playing

Whenever I fell, you helped me stand up, brushed the dirt off assuring me that I’ll be alright and just needed to rest so that the wound could heal. You allowed me to breathe, take a break and rest before I walked again. Subtly, you left me with this essential learning to inculcate in all aspects of my life.

Life hasn’t been kind to you, but amidst all your struggles you always found moments to ‘live’. Every evening we played different sports and the way you enjoyed that hour made the experience memorable for me. I loved to see you dance your heart out at some family functions or at home during our dance sessions. And, how can I forget our movie outings, shopping trips, food dates and our love for orange slush? It was just the two of us, and looking back I would never have it any other way!

Remember when my boards were around the corner and I was super-nervous? You suddenly took me out for a film. I was in awe of you! After all, I had not seen a parent forcibly make their child take a break from studies for a fun evening. That day, and all the others, our lives have been filled with adversities but this never stopped you. You taught me how to pause and enjoy life even when everything else was a mess and people thought it wasn’t ‘decent’ enough.

A person who had never before stepped out of the house alone was suddenly required to learn to navigate the city. I understand that it must have been challenging for you, but eventually, you figured out the city well enough to take me around with you, making sure that I knew everything that you hadn’t. You didn’t flinch even for a second when you had to take me to four different cities for college entrances.

Then, you decided to work after a gap of more than 20 years and showed me that ambitions are not limited by age.

You came from a family steeped in traditions to an explicitly conservative one. We both know how our life has been, and I cannot think of a person better equipped to not only survive in the most challenging of situations and still have the courage to stand up for themselves.

You negotiated for your self-respect even though you were trained to be silent and endure.

Your resilience was visible in the ways that you refused to allow anyone to mess with me, and more importantly in the various ways, you stood your ground when people called you names or levied accusations. I am sure it wasn’t easy for you, often you fell (well, you’re human!) but you ultimately stood up with immense courage, all-set to face the world.

You’re one person I’ve seen navigate stereotypical expectations, endure severe storms and still break-through innumerable barriers. While you’ve shown me how to respect others and be compassionate enough to understand their struggles, you have also taught me how to take control of my life and not let anyone else determine the way I choose to live.

As the mother of a millennial who is open about her mental health, trust issues and under-confidence, you have been the epitome of compassion. My journey of healing would not have been easy if you weren’t there to support me patiently.

Your spirit of inquisitiveness, learning and speaking your mind is something I hope to carry with me. Your patience, courage, resilience and everything (because I’m struggling with words now) that you are, makes me who I am today.

Life threw you lemons, you made a lemon cake!

Happy Teachers Day to my best teacher!

Subjects can be taught in schools, you taught me how to live my life.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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