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In Conversation With International Motivational TEDx Speaker Mannsi Agrawal

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International Motivational Speaker, Corporate Trainer, TEDx Speaker, Communications Coach and Entrepreneur Ms Mannsi Agrawal interacts with Raaz Dheeraj Sharma, a user of Youth Ki Awaaz, about her life as Motivational Speaker, Woman’s Power and Right and about issues related to menstruation and also discussing why society is treating young girls as different and isolating them during the time of this natural process and about the special bond between people of India and Nepal and about life and strangers and more.

Raaz Dheeraj Sharma (RDS): You are motivating people. Is it difficult to motivate people or yourself?

Mannsi Agrawal (MA): I am a very self-motivated person. I have taken out time during this pandemic to understand and figure out my goals. And because I have such a clear picture of what I want in life, I have my goals very sorted and I am extremely motivated. So, I think it is more difficult to motivate others than myself.

RDS: It is difficult to adopt change, but at the same time, change is the only permanent aspect of this nature. So how you are observing this change in this world from motivating women to women motivating?

MA: I believe that women are truly motivated and strong. However, sometimes they don’t understand and recognise their strength and the world doesn’t either. My main motivation does come from the many women I am inspired by and I also know that if I can be a mouthpiece and inspire other women around me, my life will have been successful.

RDS: Is it the right time to proclaim that society is ready to accept the change where people are ready to learn from women, or is it too early to think about it?

MA: I am a corporate trainer who’s been working in this field for the last 12 years. Very often, I come across groups I’m training where I am the only woman in the room. And I train a group of 20, 30, 40 men. Initially, they might find it slightly difficult to learn from a woman trainer. However, within half an hour of training, they do understand that I come from a place of knowledge and authority and understanding of my subject. So, they are not really hesitant to listen to my words or accept what I am saying.

I feel society is ready. Yes, it might be a bit of hesitation, but people more or less are ready to start learning from women. Isn’t it true that some of our primary and pre-school teachers are women? Mothers who are the first teacher are also women, aren’t they?

RDS: We can listen, read and watch motivational stories, but in the end, it’s upon individuals to take steps and think about subjects and the meaning of life. What is your message for people who are uncertain about their future?  

MA: The future is something that nobody is certain about. However, I do feel that people who have a clear idea of their vision they have in mind for themselves or people, who are sure of what they want from life, can more accurately work towards and predict their future than anyone else.

I do understand that it is not easy to motivate yourself. Reading books is not sufficient. I feel that the one thing that you can do to motivate yourself is to ask yourself why you’re working towards your certain goal if you have your “why” clearly in mind, you will be able to get there.

RDS: As in my book “15 Strangers: Conversation that mean a Lifetime” I have mentioned individuals have the liberty to share anything with strangers and the other day you were saying the same thing. According to you, what is the importance of any stranger in our life? 

MA: Strangers are as important as we make them. Some of my most amazing interactions and conversations in the world have happened with strangers who have then become my friends. Strangers also sometimes show us a mirror and strangers are also sometimes the best people to have conversations with because we are not scared of any judgment or any feedback from them; after all, they don’t matter as much to us.

I feel that strangers can transform into either long-lasting friendships or people with whom we may not share more than a moment in time, but we may share a lot in common.

India Nepal border
India and Nepal have many things in common from our culture to our beliefs, the way we deal with situations, languages, food, to the way our families and societies are net up.

RDS: You are a daughter of India and daughter-in-law of Nepal. From your personal experiences, how will you elaborate this special bond between people of both countries?

MA: People of both the countries, sometimes, focus on the differences between them. However, having lived in both countries for many years, the only thing I can see is the similarity and love between them. India and Nepal have many things in common from our culture to our beliefs, the way we deal with situations, languages, food, to the way our families and societies are net up.

I think that, for me, coming from India, Nepal wasn’t a difficult place to live in. Both places are unique, yet, we have such strong bonds of love and relationships when they say that there is a “Roti-Beti” relation, which means people come and go from each other’s country for either employment or for marriage, they were not wrong. These have made us close for generations and I hope no divisive forces in the world can pull these two countries apart who have historically shared good bonds.

RDS: As you are speaking for and on behalf of all daughters from India and Nepal, what you want to say to those daughters who are facing discrimination on the issue of menstruation?

MA: I think the moment we as women start speaking up about issues such as menstruation, we will stop facing discrimination because we need to understand that this is a completely natural process of the body. I think women are the one who should be less silent and less quiet about it. And the more we talk about it, the more we will be able to normalise it.

Also, as I always say, as a generation of mothers, it is our responsibility to bring up little boys to believe that there is nothing taboo or nothing mysterious about menstruation. We need to bring up the generation of men who understand its importance and give it its due respect. I feel the more we talk about it, the more people are going to accept the fact that it is a natural process.

Hence, with more awareness, women need not face the problem of untouchability, being isolated, staying alone in a cold room. We as social beings need to respect the natural process and celebrate the fact that it is a process from which a new life gets born.

RDS: At the occasion of celebrating her ability to become a mother, society is still treating them as different and isolating them during the time of this natural process. How can we make a balance between culture and rights and respect of daughters?

MA: These cultural practices surrounding menstruation started many years ago when proper hygiene products were unavailable. However, in today’s date and age when the world has advanced and we are extremely conscious about hygiene and health, we need to understand that menstruation should be celebrated more and more. I think if we can educate people from all parts of the world, especially our countries about the fact that menstruation is completely normal, we will be able to remove cultural stigmas associated with it.

Another huge impetus would go to Pharma Companies who are producing female hygiene product for this period because they need to make these products accessible to everyone since this is not a comfort or a luxury product but a basic product required by half of the population of the world. Therefore, access to hygiene products would also make a huge difference along with subsidies would make a huge difference to the way the world perceives the cultural and social aspect of menstruation.

RDS: You are a traveller and connected with nature. What can we gain from travelling and nature and how will you elaborate on the importance of travelling and nature?

MA: I feel travelling gives us a perspective of life that we don’t ordinarily get being where we live because when we are living in our day to day lives there is a certain amount of mundaneness or normalcy to our lives that we get used to. Travelling gives us not only a fresh perspective but also a fresh routine and a fresh sense of geography, which changes us and makes us look at things differently with more curiosity. Every time I travel, I learn not just because of what I see but also because of what I experience.

What I can learn from nature is there are lots of lessons to be drawn from nature. I think the most important one of them is that everything has its speed and time. And if you just let things be, they will happen if they have to. I think this is a very profound meditative thought and it does take a bit of understanding to be able to practice and I am trying to learn myself as well.

But nature does give you a perfect example of it, doesn’t it? A baby will be born in 9 months no matter what, a flower does take a certain amount of time to bloom no matter what. We need to be able to understand this to have a sense of detachment from our worldly pursuits. Of course, this is easier said than done and even I am embarking on this journey right now. During my tough and challenging times, I do tend to want to move away from things and I do tend to want to escape out into nature or another place.

RDS: At the time when we are living in this competitive world wherein we are connected with the artificial world and digital relationship and have grudges, insecurities, jealousy and having a feeling of loneliness and sadness after having expectations and attachments, how can individuals still be positive and believe that life is beautiful?

MA: I think there is just a one-word answer to this and the answer is gratitude. The moment we start feeling grateful for everything we have; the sun, the moon, the stars, the rain, the grass, the flowers, the sky, the water, the food, everything. The moment we start feeling grateful for everything we have we will be able to enjoy all the gifts we receive and we will be able to feel happier about whatever it is that we are pursuing and doing in life.

So, I think gratitude is one of those extremely important components that can make us lead a more fulfilling and gratifying life.

About the Author: Raaz Dheeraj Sharma is an advocate and author of “15 Strangers: Conversations that mean a Lifetime” who is writing for Youth Ki Awaaz on different issues and interacts with renowned personalities and motivators.

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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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