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Boys Should Be Educated. Girls Should Do Housework. Can It Go On Like This?

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

By Kritika Bhambhry

For Azad India Foundation

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word gender does not exist: where everyone can be themselves” Gloria Steinem

Women have been chasing the dream of equality for centuries. One of the earliest recorded strikes by women for equality dates back to 1828. The most recent one which forced people to take notice was done by Mexican women taking to the streets on International Women’s Day. According to a report by the Women Economic Forum, gender parity is still 99.5 years away at the current pace.

Men have always dominated the world in which we live. Even in art and literature, the patriarchal mentality can easily be seen across the centuries.

A woman has always been seen by society as a homemaker. She has to cook and look after children and take care of the family. Representational image

A couplet by Tulsidas, a renowned poet, is one such example, who defined the status of women in one of his writings as, “Dhol, Ganwar, Shudra aur naari, sakal taadan ke adhikaari,” meaning that drums, illiterates, untouchables, and women deserve to be beaten. This mentality was not limited to the subcontinent of India but was widespread across the globe. Napoleon Bonaparte, a French statesman and leader of the military, once said, “Nature intended women to be our slaves. They are our property”.

Men’s superiority over women has been so instilled in our society that the birth of a boy is celebrated, whereas a woman is considered a liability. People have chosen to have sons over daughters since ages because they think that men have a lot more physical power and that they will stay in the family, and continue the name of the family, even after marriage. The tradition of dowry benefits men as well.

In forms that are hardly discrete, the unwantedness of daughters is communicated. In terms of marriage and motherhood, the principle of life-long dependency and vulnerability are articulated as the sole goals of a woman’s life.

The transient existence of one’s native home and the fear of going to and adapting to an unknown family are part of the learning during childhood itself that a girl cannot avoid.

The expression of deeply ingrained values, such as the “impurity” of menstruation, makes girls internalize their lower ritual status under patriarchy. The transmission of culturally sanctioned attitudes is the mechanism of gender that directs girls to become women who are socially acceptable.

A woman has always been seen by society as a homemaker. She has to cook and look after children and take care of the family. Since childhood, she has been told that the needs of her family outweigh her own needs.

The access to and experience of education of a woman is obstructed by a patriarchal structure that gives preference to men over women. Although more women are enrolled in higher education institutions and are typically more successful than men in completing 10th board examinations, 84 percent of girls are prevented from completing their degrees. Patriarchal systems either compel them to marry early or discourage them from having formal jobs.

According to a research, parents are more inclined towards sending their sons to private schools, especially the ones that teach in English and their daughters to Public schools, which led to a shutdown of various schools because enrolment rate was quite low.

As far as schooling environment is concerned, researchers found the existence of a dangerous and pervasive pattern of sexual harassment, impunity and discrediting of girl students.

Another reason why girl’s access to schools is curtailed is due to patriarchal beliefs that girls and women must be the ones doing household labour. Such labour is not considered and measured as labour, even though it shares the characteristics of formal employment.

A young girl named Sapna, just like her name, had hundreds of dreams in her eyes about growing up, working in the corporate sector and to be one of those women she admires and sees every day, coming back from their office in their formal clothing.

However, these dreams of Sapna remained dreams only, as she was forced to drop out of her school upon completing her 10th standard. Sapna comes from a poor family that barely makes ends meet.

Sapna’s father is a driver, her mother works two jobs, one as a car washer and the other as a domestic helper.

She also has a younger brother who is currently studying in 8th standard. Sapna was asked to stop continuing her studies as her parents needed a helping hand. Sapna’s parents go to their jobs every day, whereas Sapna is responsible for all the daily household chores, from cleaning the house to cooking all the meals, as well as looking after her younger brother.

Her father believes that the money they make and save would be better utilized if spent on her brother’s education as he is the future of the family. If he grows up to be educated and successful, he will look after his parents whereas Sapna will get married and go to a different house.

According to him, spending on his son’s education is like an investment, with probable returns but spending on Sapna’s education is like an investment with no return. He believes that the money he has been saving for Sapna will be needed for her wedding. Her education won’t pay for her wedding, but his savings will.

Sapna is not the only girl with shattered dreams, so many more girls like Sapna get their dreams severed at the hands of Patriarchy.

While gender differences have been substantially reduced, problems remain in the quality of girls’ education. But, we still need to ensure an atmosphere free of racism, sexism and stereotyping of children on the basis of gender, caste, community, disability or parental occupation.

A country or culture cannot achieve progress without the participation of women. If gender discrimination is abolished, women will have all the capacity, abilities, and expertise to improve the family, the nation, and the world as a whole.

Education develops abilities, imparts intelligence, modifies behaviours and increases self-confidence. It creates opportunities for employment and raises earnings.

Therefore, the primary element in fighting gender inequality and the upliftment of women is education for women. Economic independence would free women from the status of ‘slavery’ and increase confidence in themselves. Women’s economic empowerment also leads to national economic growth. 

The featured image is for representational purposes

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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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