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“I Always Wanted To Be An Engineer, How Did I End Up In The Kitchen?” 

Don’t cry my dear, it’ll just take a few days and you’ll become habitual to all this,” uttered Rani to her daughter Sita. 

Mother, what do you mean, I’ve to go through all this for my entire life?” impatiently asked Sita. “Yes my dear, that’s how our society works. Your father used to beat me till hours after coming home drunk, but the next day he would bring me ‘besan ke ladoos’ from Kaka’s shop and I would just swallow my pain along with ladoos,” said her teary-eyed mother. 

Sita was astonished to hear her mother’s reply. She wondered whether it’s so easy to adjust women’s dignity and pain with a few ladoos. 

And 1,200 kms away in a posh locality in Mumbai, another mother was conditioning her newlywed daughter. “My child, you have to accept this. I know, you have a job from 9 to 5, but you cannot absolve your duties of cooking and taking care of your in-laws.” 

Hearing this, Ruhani asked her mother, “If we both earn the same, why is household work entirely shouldered upon me?” 

A still from the movie Lunch Box

What do these two tales talk about? Isn’t it strange that despite proclaiming gender equality in our constitution we live in a highly stratified society? 

Despite having laws about the prohibition of dowry to domestic violence, we see scars on women’s faces. Despite giving a clarion call for “Beti Bachao Beti Padhao”, the State of World Population, 2020, laments that India accounts for 40% of the world’s “missing girls”. 

Despite applauding Priyanka Chopra for breaking the glass ceiling and admiring Gita Gopinath’s success, we have one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world. 

So where are we going wrong? Are we short on legal or policy aspects? Not exactly. So is it about our socialization? Let’s check. 

Socialization is the process by which we learn to become members of society. So let’s take a look at our “gendered socialization”. 

Sita and Ruhani’s stories are not rare. There are many who have accepted domestic violence as part and parcel of married life and consider this burden as something natural for a woman, like household work and her job. 

What else can they do? In fact, we’re all brought up like this. Starting from — pink is for girls and blue is for boys, kitchen set for girls and bat ball for boys, rearing and caring for girls and earning for boys, abusive language in the name of girls and masculinity in the name of boys, four walls for girls and open streets for boys. 

The list is endless but this will suffice to throw light on our gendered socialization. I get astonished sometimes when people ask, “What’s my fault in the rising cases of sexual harassment or feminization of poverty?” 

Aristotle once said that family was the first institution. 

Thus, it becomes crucial what values are being propagated within our families. 

Now you can go to a flashback to make yourself clearer. Some of you would be amazed to realise, “I always wanted to be an engineer, how did I end up in the kitchen”. 

Please don’t judge me as someone who hates pink or undervalues household duties. In fact, I believe to nurture and raise a family by sacrificing your own dreams is the toughest task that many women do happily. 

I’m just raising the matter of choices. It was never about task distinction amongst males and females. Rather, the reality is that “nature created sex and society created gender”. With this came the role of stereotypes. And this is being passed along generations. 

So when Chandro Tomar went for sharpshooting events, the males in the house got enraged. They scorned her dreams by saying “these things are not meant for females”. 

This is being propagated in our media industry too. It has become too banal that nobody considers it wrong, when only women are broadcasted in “washing powder nirma”, Harpic or Johnson Baby’s advertisements. 

And on the extreme side movies like Kabir Singh portray misogyny and earn crores. Eve-teasing culture is propounded in movies like Dabang or Love Aaj Kal. It’s promoted as a form of love. And if a boy commits a crime by taking revenge with the girl for a “no”, it becomes “her” mistake. Nobody considers it problematic if all this boils down to rape culture. 

Various studies have highlighted that rape is as much a social issue as it’s a psychological one. When a girl is sexually assaulted, society goes on tagging her attire, companionship and timing as an offence. 

But then what do you call marital rape? How are you fine with the fact that 94% of rapes are done by offenders who are known to the victims — family members, friends, employers, etc. 

When will we start contemplating such issues? When will we realise the wrongs being propagated within our families? The next time you appreciate commodification of women in songs, think twice. The next time you debase a movie like Thappad because it portrays women’s dignity and her choices, think twice. 

In a historic judgment, ordering equal roles for women in the army, the Supreme Court asserted “gender inequality is about mindsets”. It’s true that patriarchy, misogyny and role stereotyping take its roots from our mindsets. So let us start with setting our homes right first. 

Before adjusting the deadline for daughters, ask where your sons are roaming late at night. Before shouting at her for the skirt’s length, teach him to respect girls. Before crying over your daughter’s assault, slap your sons if they eve-tease a girl. 

Before asking your daughters-in-law whether they can cook or not, start allocating household duties among children, regardless of gender, equally. Before asking a working woman how she manages family and work together, make yourself realise you are a gender bigot. 

And for Sita and Ruhani’s mothers, I would say stop propagating gendered socialization.

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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