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“Joining A Feminazi Hot-Spot?”: Ridiculous Things You Hear If You Go To A Women’s College

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“Why are you joining a Feminazi hot-spot?”

As much as some of us women enjoy sitting in circles, throwing in creative jibes at men, we wouldn’t establish a college to do so.

The purpose of this article is to outline the contemporary relevance of women’s colleges and why these institutes have nothing to do with men yet everything to do with them too.

The announcement of my joining a women’s college was received with a juxtaposed reaction- snarky yet glazed-in-pity comments from my friends and sighs of relief from distant family. Both of these, judgements borne of a stereotypical understanding of women’s colleges.

Representational image.

Having studied in a co-ed institute all my life, this decision came equally as a surprise to me as it was to people who know me. Many of my friends couldn’t fathom why I would travel as far as Delhi, from Bombay, to study in a women’s college which is off-campus, when I had the option of leading an unsupervised life of unlimited depravity in an equally good co-ed college in the north campus. I must say, that prospect did seem rather enticing for a bit, but as soon as I entered the campus, I shed every shred of doubt.

The sight of ambitious women, with keen, intelligent faces, empathetic smiles and a stubbornness to be unconquered- it was simply electric.

Women’s colleges are evolving from conservative grooming and breeding grounds that set rules for women, to increasingly liberal gardens where seeds of equality and solidarity are sown, and women set rules through democracy and dissent. The social, political and economic context of our life plays a very powerful role in shaping it. Each aspect of the identity of an individual may alter an experience and we often take for granted the privilege associated with our identity.

The journey of a woman and the way she navigates through school, college and so on is often rather different from that of a man. When we add another layer to the identity of the person, let’s say a woman from the North-east, the experience may be altered yet again. Sexism and misogyny, so deeply embedded in our social and political institutions therefore often make journeys of women a thorny path and so does casteism, transphobia, homophobia and Islamophobia among many other prejudices against marginalized identities. Individuals of each of these identities show immense grit and work double or triple as hard to prove their worth.

The point to note here is this- marginalized identities, in this context,- women do not want to be glorified for making it through the thorny path, neither should they have to take a complicated path by virtue of their gender, or any aspect of their identity.

Representational image. Students of Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, India (Lady Sriram College, LSR) (Photo by Sipra Das/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

This is not to say that all men have it easy. They don’t. But they are spared of institutionalized oppression specifically owing to their gender. This is also not to say that women’s colleges are absolutely egalitarian spaces. Trans women are not given their rightful space. It’s a rather convenient and typical to look the other way when it comes to the self-determination of trans individuals, isn’t it? Discrimination in the campus on the basis of caste, class and religion have been well preserved across decades, just as these red brick walls.

Surprisingly, removing men from the equation doesn’t solve all the problems. The purpose of these institutions is not to wage war against men, maybe to instil a sense of self-dependency and a space to thrive as a woman, but no, not to wage war.

“I feel that personally, before coming to college, I was living in a world where I was majorly dependent on older men in my family or outside. The power and responsibilities were in their hands and so, learning was derived from them. After being in a women’s college (LSR), it has given me an environment where I got to know what a world would look like if there were no men in them and women in my college, specifically the seniors, showed me how I could get that learning from women and this actually helped me break a lot of structures in my mind”,  says Aishwarya Singh, a third-year student from Lady Shri Ram College.

Leadership opportunities, a learning environment where women are in charge, freedom to explore without any inhibitions. That is the purpose of a women’s college.

To have and become role models, currently a concept which is dominated by cisgender men. To ensure they derive purpose from themselves and not a man. To establish free will and a right to self-determination. To dissent freely against injustice. To wear a sweater with bikini bottoms if I please.

The article was first published here.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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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