This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Dr Pooja Tripathi. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What Women want- Bihar elections through a gender lens

Bihar has seen a high turnout of women voters in the last few elections — both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. In the 2015 election, the polling percentage of women voters was higher than the male voters. Statistics show that female voters who voted numbered 1,89,14,687 out of a total 3,12,72,523 female electors, which was 60.48%. The number of males who voted stood at 1,90,78,453 out of 3,57,82,181 total number of 3,57,82,181, which was 53.32% in terms of polling percentage. In the 2019 parliamentary polls, 59.58 % of women voted while the percentage of male voters was 57.33%.

In fact, it is no secret that female voters were the force behind Nitish Kumar’s return to power for a third term in 2015 when the main poll plank was the implementation of total alcohol prohibition in the state. In the last few elections, the EC has been promoting all-women managed booths to encourage the participation of women voters but the number of such booths was limited. For the first time a record 2.04 lakh women personnel are being engaged in election duty following the increase in the number of all women booths.

It won’t be a smooth ride for NDA as government is facing storms of criticism for never seen before migrant crisis, a rising COVID graph, healthcare unpreparedness, increasing unemployment and the sheer misery unleashed on the poor because of government mismanagement. For some unknown reason, Nitish Kumar showed extreme reluctance to take back Bihari workers and students stranded in other states during the lockdown. He differed with the BJP on repatriating students from Kota. He argued against the Centre’s proposal to run special trains for migrants. When a heartbreaking video went viral, of a toddler trying to awaken his dead mother on the railway platform in Muzaffarpur after getting off a migrant special, Nitish showed little sympathy. And he has continued to remain cold to the plight of returning workers who are now being blamed by his government for bringing COVID to Bihar.

Access to qualitative institutional healthcare

Bihar is one of the hotspots of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Bihar has the sixth highest number of active Covid-19 patients with the lowest rate in the country. It conducts 7,917 tests per 10 lakh people against the national average of 18,086. At 14.7 days, Bihar has the third-worst doubling rate against the national average of 23.6 days. The current state of affairs in Bihar can be seen as an acute manifestation of perennial weaknesses in its healthcare system. These weaknesses are not limited to the infrastructure and human resources, the also reflect the inefficiency in governance and lack of trust and accountability. The current state of healthcare in Bihar has largely been shaped by a legacy of constant neglect and with shortage of beds and ICUs in healthcare facilities, what we are witnessing is the derailment of women and child health initiatives.

Reverse migration and a large unemployed force

The visuals of thousands of familes walking back to their villages during lockdown and the absolute apathy of govt towards these migrant workers is still fresh in public memory. Out-migration has been a long-standing problem of Bihar, which supplies labour force to most of the developing cities of the country. Policymakers have long said that lack of economic development in the state has forced generations of Biharis to flee, looking for work in other states.

However, the fact that Bihar had a migrant problem of its own came to the fore during the coronavirus lockdown. The sudden announcement of lockdown in March shut down factories, shops and other businesses across the country.

Labourers working in these businesses for paltry incomes soon exhausted their means of livelihood and started walking home  to an uncertain prospect.

Women comnstituting a large share of these daily wage earners don’t want to go back to the same ortdeal and now, have started demanding jobs from the Nitish Kumar government, which is seeking a fresh mandate

Frontline workers

The monumental mismanagement of the state’s government hospitals has completely exposed the crumbling public health infrastructure and the Nitish Kumar government is facing the heat. Overworked, underpaid and uninsuresd ANMs, contractual staff and ASHA workers have been protesting against Nitish Govt. The major demands of these health staff hired under the National Health Mission (NHM) are pay revision, a 15 per cent increment in salary every year, regularization of work under the state government, compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the kin of health workers who succumbed to COVID-19, and the payment of Employment Provident Fund.

Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) have an important role among frontline workers on the ground battling the COVID-19 pandemic but, they are neither getting adequate security nor money. The non payment of coronavirus  duty payment and AES survey payment have left these frontline workers in lurch. This has forced them to go on strike. There are more than 90,000 ASHAs in Bihar.

To add to this, thousands of schoolteachers and jeevika didis, key mobilisers for government functions, are angry with the CM’s failure to meet their long-pending salary demands. According to official figures, there are more than eight lakh self-help groups in the state in which lakhs of jeevika didis are working at the grass root level in thousands of villages. They play an important part in mobilising women from their respective villages for any government programme or function.Needless to say they are one vote bank Nitish Kumar won’t wish to lose.

A safe and secure Bihar

The law and order situation, which has been the selling point for the Nitish Kumar government since his first term, also presents a grim picture of the state. The state has seen a spate of gang rapes and videos being made viral  even when the grotesque Muzaffarnagar Shelter case hasn’t seen any acquittal

A foolproof flood control strategy

Loss of lives, livelihoods and settlements impact women the most as they are in a child caring role. Floods are cause of perennial sorrow in Bihar, where 28 of the 38 districts are marked flood-prone. This year, though, the floods were more severe than usual and affected the state at a time when people were already struggling to deal with the pandemic and lockdown. At least 8.3 million people in 16 districts were displaced, and many are living in relief camps still. The Opposition has claimed politicization of relief, while the government has blamed earlier regimes for weak embankments and corruption.

The BJP believes it has an upper hand given the state of the Opposition in Bihar but political observers believe “the ground situation in Bihar, like it was in Jharkhand, is far from what it appears”. Local issues govern Assembly elections and BJP has not been doing so well in Assembly elections since 2018. Beginning with Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018, the trend continued in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi and Jharkhand in 2019. And this despite a spectacular performance in General Elections spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The bottom-line is female voters will decide the fate of parties in these elections where the the combination of coronavirus pandemic, migrant crisis, job losses, floods and farmers’ issues have the potential to give a setback to BJP.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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