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Do You Also Know A Sneha Around You? Support Them This National Girl Child Day

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Sneha was born three days before Vikram from the neighbouring house. Relatives and neighbours arrived with gifts, sweets were distributed.

But the cacophony started only three days later. There were dhols and people dancing to the dhols at the neighbouring house, more guests and more sweets. Things went back to the usual the next day.

Sneha was already luckier than 3.3 lakh girls who were never born that year.

Sneha and Vikram got enrolled in the same school when they were five. Sneha was dropped by her dad on his motorbike to the school. Vikram used to take a 10-minute walk with two of his friends.

After school, Sneha would come back home with her father for lunch. She would help her mom with lunch and go to her room once her father would leave for the shop.

That year, only 53% girls in India joined school, and Sneha was one of them.

Meanwhile, Vikram would not be home yet. After school, he’d usually go to the playground with a few of his classmates to play football. He’d go back home only after his ritualistic ice-cream. As soon as Vikram would reach home, he’d be asked to sit at the table with his dada and dadi for lunch that his mom would serve. After a chat at the table, he would go to his room for a nap.

Each year, only 53% girls in India join school. Representational image.

Both Sneha and Vikram would meet in the evening with a group of friends and play in the park. Vikram would be called home by 9, Sneha by 7, except on day when her mother would be menstruating. On these days, Sneha would be asked to stay at home and help her dadi cook since her mom couldn’t enter the kitchen.

Sneha was 13 when she got her first period. She was attending school when she felt discomfort and found her skirt stained. Her mom came to pick her up and explained what periods mean and showed her how to use a sanitary pad. That is when Sneha understood why her mother would not enter the kitchen four days of the month. She cried to her mom for having to miss her class test the next day.

Little did she realise that she was among the luckiest 22% of girls in India who had a sanitary pad in her almirah.

She was served dinner in her room once her dad was home. She could use the washroom only once her dad had freshened up and had gone to his room to sleep.

Sneha missed school for a week and went back once her period was over, unlike the 23 million girls the same year who had dropped out after their first year.

Vikram scored 40 out of 50 in that class test and earned himself a toy car. He took the toy to school the next day to show off to his friends. He wondered why Sneha was not present in class to play with her toy car.

Representational image.

By the time Sneha was 15, she had been taught how to wash clothes early in the morning, clean dadaji’s room after school and cook rice and sabzi for dinner. In between, she would find time to finish her homework.

Vikram would do his homework at night. He had his football practice after school, he would learn how to ride a scooty with his friends in the evening, and he would sit with his notebook after dinner.

By the time Sneha was in Class 12, she was already among 1% of all the girls in India who joined primary schools and reached Class 12.

A week before her Class 12 board exams, she felt irritation near her vagina. Her mother had to make an excuse to the father before she could take her savings and take her daughter to a gynaecologist.

Sneha skipped her group study session with Vikram and others that day, without giving them any reason. Vikram, on the other hand, had not missed a day of their group study sessions. He was unhappy when his parents pushed him into science in Class 11, but decided to score well in his board exams and get into a course of his liking.

Sneha’s ambitions were as high – she took up science and wanted to be an engineer. But her parents wanted her to stay at home after completing school. She could help her dad with his shop till she gets married. Sneha’s visit to the gynaecologist had got her worried not just about her health but also about her exam performance. If she doesn’t score well, she wouldn’t be able to go to college. The gynae gave her medicines and asked her to use a cleaner toilet. She had avoided going to school because of unclean toilets there. But there were days when she could not avoid school.

Representational image.

This got her worried about how and from where she would buy expensive medicines. But she had her boards to worry about first.

Vikram scored an 88.6% and got into an economics course after fighting with his parents. He wanted to work for MNCs. Meanwhile, Sneha scored an 88.4%. She was dejected for long. She knew she could have scored above 90%. Her dad let her go to college for first year, but she had to drop out when her parents got her married.

Sneha could never complete college and got pregnant with a son a year after her marriage. Meanwhile, Vikram finished his degree and got a job in Delhi.

Sneha is among the lucky few who got the chance to live and go to school. Even today, many girls in India are not given the right to live; they are killed before they can see the world. Out of those who do come out alive, many are abandoned, given away or sold off. Very few get to attend school, live a healthy life and find some sort of social and financial independence. This National Girl Child Day, let’s talk about the challenges that girls in India face and stand up with them in their fight to reclaim their rights.

Note: The article is a fictional representation to raise awareness of challenges faced by an average girl in India. 

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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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