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Remember How Class 8th Textbooks Would Teach Reproduction?

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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.

From the first National Education Policy (NEP) drafted under Kothari Commission in 1968 to the third ambitious NEP passed by Shri Narendra Modi’s union government; after a long and tiring overhaul of 34 years in pandemic stricken 2020 have opened a Pandora’s Box of unique changes, staunch criticisms and hopeful support from Indian citizenry.

But amidst all, its overarching clauses of e-learning, mother tongue-based teaching-learning process, “5+3+3+4” structure and setting up foreign universities in Indian ecosystem are a gigantic irony.  Because how is the Indian government is going to endorse inclusive and equitable education with a mere mention of menstrual hygiene management, sexual and reproductive rights and consent education. The goals of creating gender inclusion funds, knowledge superpower, holistic and multidisciplinary education; are nothing but building castles in the air.

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The policy envisages increasing the gross enrolment ratio to 50% by 2035 in secondary education, but who is going to take the responsibility of the bleak future of nearly 23 million girls who drop out of the school annually after attaining puberty? The lack of proper WASH infrastructure in the school, menstrual hygiene knowledge- usage of sanitary pads and sexual and reproductive agency forces them to allow their menstruation as the biggest unavoidable biological hurdle in front of their education.

The Adolescent Education Programme, which is a part of CBSE syllabus, is still a “hush-hush” subject. The 8th-grade biology textbook gives misinformed or half-baked knowledge on reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraceptives due to the teacher’s ignorance and the students’ giggles and shame surrounding the taboo topic. Girls are bullied and physically abused in school for red stains and menstrual cramps due to a huge lack of gender-sensitive education.

Girls also contract vaginal infections in educational institutions to unhealthy conditions fostered by bad sanitary napkin disposal facilities. Amidst the hullaballoo of imparting vocational and computer knowledge to children beyond Class 6, the policy inadvertently neglects, taking into account the broad spectrum of LGBTQIA+ community.

It is highly imperative to spread social approbation regarding menses among transgender people and girls with disabilities, so, that they can menstruate with dignity. Rather than prioritising such education which is the absolute need of the hour in a child’s formative period, kids are taught about “growing up as boys and girls” in class 7th humanities textbooks.

If the stakeholders fail to break the atrocious silence surrounding women’s bodily needs with the help of education, then the other well-intentioned steps like hiring female teachers, providing girls with free bicycles and laptops, placing women in leadership roles are not going to be 100% effective. The futility will stem from the fact that ill-informed children become ignorant youth leaders who make biased legislations and make the world a difficult place for menstruating women (read – still debating over granting paid period leave to women in 2020).

Since India is taking striding steps for localisation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first and foremost duty is to empower all the government run educational institutions in vulnerable areas to private ones in the suburbs. The lack of NEP 2020’s appropriate coverage on MHM, SRHR, homosexuality, WASH sector is going to tarnish India’s performance in SDG 3 (Good health and wellbeing), SDG 4 (Quality education), SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). While women around the world are dreaming of dismantling a world where anyone is held back by periods in 2030; I am highly sceptical of India’s stance which is home to around 336 million girls and women in their reproductive age.

The seeds of experiencing sustainable menstruation should be implanted in a pre-adolescent mind in the abode of learning. To increase the penetration of revolutionary menstruation technology of reusable pads, biodegradable menstrual cups and tampons, girls and boys should be made alert of green alternatives. NEP 2020 also fails to shed light on the funding and know-how of installing sanitary napkin vending machines and pad incinerators in educational premises.

The half-hearted mention of MHM in NEP 2020 shows the Indian government’s lackadaisical attitude towards human rights, girl’s and women’s health and wellbeing, socio-economic development and gender equality. Since time immemorial, societal taboos have already been extensively cruel to menstruating people; it was expected out of NEP 2020 to shun the period stigma and poverty, stigma by allowing the force of rightful education to bring waves of change among India’s youngsters and youth.

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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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