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25 Years Since The Beijing Declaration On Gender Equality: How Has India Fared?

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“Where, after all, do universal Human Rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity, without discrimination.”

            — Eleanor Roosevelt

Twenty five years ago, in the month of September (1995), the fourth world conference on women affirmed that women’s rights are human rights. In the year 1995, 189 governments attended this conference with 17,000 participants. Additionally, 30,000 participants working in the non-governmental sector joined this unprecedented conference. The main aim of this conference was “to remove all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through ensuring a woman’s full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision making.” The principle of shared and power and responsibility at home, workplace and in the national and international communities was discussed widely at this conference.

About The Beijing Declaration, 1995

“To advance the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women everywhere in the interest of all humanity.” (Beijing Declaration, 1995)

The 1995 Fourth conference on women was held in Beijing and considered one of the largest gatherings of the United Nations. In the history of gender equality movements, this was a critical turning point. It prioritised actions that were required to realise gender equality and women empowerment of women. The document was followed by two weeks of political debates of the participants, political representatives and leaders.

UN Women has declared this document “the most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.” It acknowledged the voices of all women everywhere and ensured full implementation of human rights of women and girl child. It represents a world where each woman and girl can exercise her freedom and act according to her choice.

The Twelve Critical Areas Of Concern

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action focused on 12 critical areas of concern for women globally:

  1. Women and environment: To create health and productive environment for women
  2. Women and poverty: The declaration mainly focused on eradication of poverty through structural changes and providing opportunities to women in all fields, including of those who live in rural areas.
  3. Women in power and decision-making: The declaration also discussed the social, political and economic involvement of women in decision-making. Principle of shared power and responsibility was another point discussed at the conference.
  4. The Girl child: Protecting, respecting and promoting the potential of the girl child was discussed.
  5. Women and the economy: Women as the key contributors of economies.
  6. Violence against women: Prevention and elimination of all forms of violation against women
  7. Human Rights of women: Promotion and protection of all human rights of women and girls
  8. Education and training of women: Promoting educational opportunities to women
  9. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women: Strengthening the institutional mechanisms to report act of violence against women
  10. Women and health: Promoting highest attainable standard of physical as well as mental health of women and girls.
  11. Women and media: Platform for Action, inter alia, through mass media and public education
  12. Women and the armed conflict: Protection of women rights in the times of armed conflict

Has India’s Goals Been Achieved?

Twenty five years since the adoption of BPfA, gender equality remains an elusive challenge in India. The Government of India, in its report in 2015, admitted that deep-rooted gender inequalities continue to undermine the country’s potential to translate economic growth into inclusive development. Though legislative measures have been taken by all subsequent governments, gender-based inequalities in education, income and employment limit the ability to protect women’s health. The girl child continues to be the most vulnerable member of the Indian society. The Child Sex Ratio (age group 0-6) has deteriorated from 927 in 2001 to 918 in 2011.

The 2015 report analysed 12 core areas of the Beijing Declaration and how the Indian government responded to promote the objective of gender equality as prescribed by this document. But along with policies and legislative initiatives, a lot needs to be done to realise the policy measures on the ground.

Certain critical areas such as the burden of poverty, unequal access to primary health care facilities and nutrition, less educational opportunities, lack of training to women in rural areas, and exclusion in decision-making remain just ‘goals’ even after 25 years. Women are still struggling to participate in decision-making at various levels.

“A critical combination of a lack of political will, inaction and inadequate funding has caused uneven progress on the 12 Critical Areas of Concern.”

Conclusion

Improving the situation needs constant effort, progress is never automatic. The agenda of gender equality, as envisioned in the Beijing declaration, is still the blueprint for future demands and commitments. No country in this world, including India, has yet achieved this agenda. Many of the governments have laws to tackle with various problems, but as usual, they remain unimplemented. Even though the progress is remarkable, many challenges still exist.

Even after 25 years, ‘The‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’ has lost none of their visionary power or necessity. There is a dire need to galvanise all stakeholders to implement actions that will remove the most conspicuous barriers to gender equality. Much has been left to individual responsibility, and the quality of the solutions and arrangements on the legislative and executive. Because words are good, but the action is always better.

“In the midst of death, life persists,
In the midst of untruth, truth persists,
In the midst of darkness, light persists.”

-Gandhi

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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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