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Ways to kepp urban diet healthier

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Marielle Dubbeling is Director of the RUAF Foundation – a global network of organisations that together constitute a leading centre of expertise in urban agriculture and city region food strategies. The RUAF Foundation works to develop more sustainable and resilient cities.

Urbanisation is rapidly taking over many regions of the world. By 2017 the majority of people worldwide will be living in an urban environment, including a huge proportion of people in less developed countries. Rapid urbanisation can cause many problems, including poverty and food insecurity, which can make it harder for citizens to eat a healthy diet. This is alarmingly apparent in New York City where about 58% of adults are overweight or obese. Even in the Global South, people are eating more sugar, fats, oils and animal products. Given that World Cancer Research Fund International’s analysis of global research shows that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 10 cancers – and the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that excess weight and obesity comes at a price tag of US$2 trillion in global healthcare costs – it is essential that policymakers take action to improve the diets of people living in towns and cities.

What can policymakers do to improve diets in urban areas?

Policymakers need to do more to promote healthy and sustainable diets that don’t harm the environment and provide fair prices to food producers. As well as enhancing access to such food at affordable prices – especially in areas that lack healthy food outlets and have limited resources – healthy consumption can be promoted through public procurement and in schools and hospitals. Governments also need to support local agriculture to produce fresh fruits and vegetables in and around urban areas.

What is urban agriculture and what can it do

Urban agriculture ensures that crops are grown and animals are raised in and around cities so that they form an integral part of the urban ecosystem. It also creates jobs for members of the urban population, utilises public and private land within cities along with resources such as urban wastewater and organic waste. Encouraging this not only allows better access to nutritious food, it also provides solutions to other problems of urbanisation by providing income opportunities and reducing waste.

Governments currently implementing good practices

Many governments are already taking action to improve urban food systems. For example, since 1994, Belo Horizonte in Brazil operates a successful public eatery offering healthy, balanced meals at very low cost to a large number of the city’s population. These so-called “popular restaurants” are serving more than 20,000 healthy and balanced meals a day for just US$1.20. Another good example is found in the city of Ghent in Belgium which promotes “veggie Thursdays”, where residents are encouraged to eat as a vegetarian each Thursday to limit meat consumption, in an effort to make their diets more environmentally friendly. This involves schools and public sector organisations providing only vegetarian meals, and restaurants having special deals on vegetarian dishes. As for urban agriculture, the city of Dakar in Senegal promotes micro-gardens (a soil-free farming system) to enrich peoples’ diets with fresh vegetables; this allows vegetables to be grown within the urban landscape, for example on rooftops, and also provides a way of recycling various urban waste materials.

Milan Urban Food Policy Pact

The City of Milan has taken the initiative to advocate an international Urban Food Policy Pact that acknowledges that cities – which collectively host over half the world’s population – have a strategic role to play in developing sustainable food systems and promoting healthy diets and improved urban environments. The Pact, which engages a growing number of world cities, recommends a number of actions including: the promotion of sustainable diets; addressing diseases associated with poor diets; developing sustainable dietary guidelines; making sustainable diets accessible in public institutions; reorienting school feeding and public procurement programmes; promoting urban agriculture and encouraging joint action by the health, food and business sectors amongst others.

More than 100 cities involved

To date, 109 cities have contributed to the development of the Pact – and the accompanying Framework for Action – and have been invited to sign both documents in Milan today (15 October 2015). I would like to call on these and other cities to not only sign the Urban Food Policy Pact, but also commit to its operationalisation. We should further monitor their actions and related impacts, continue to share good practice and engage civil society, private sector and governments in joint action to create better urban food policies.

 

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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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