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Your Privilege Takes Up Space Even When You Act In ‘Good Faith’!

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Certain aspects of our privilege and oppression are not too visible. Yet, both of these have varied unseen effects on the structures of society and it’s functioning at large. Let’s understand their consequences through the papers of two acclaimed figures, Linda Martin Alcoff who is a philosopher and writes mainly on feminist philosophy, and Peggy Mcintosh, a feminist and anti-race activist.

The Problem Of Unseen Oppression Created By Privileged People Who Act In Good Faith

Alcoff’s paper ‘The Problem of Speaking for Others’ and Macintosh’s paper ‘White Privilege’, both address the problems of unseen privilege and the subtle unseen oppression created mainly by the acts of those privileged people who act in good faith.

In ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack’, Mcintosh counts some 50 conditions that make the life of the people belonging to the privileged group, in this case, white people, much easier and frictionless. These conditions are so embedded in the day-to-day activities that they’re quite hard to figure out, and even if pointed out one may not be very willing to change it to their disadvantage.

She begins by pointing out some obvious things about white privilege, such as not having to think twice about the neighbours and their behaviour, before renting or buying a house, as opposed to say a person of colour, who would have to think twice and measure the looks of the neighbourhood people before deciding to rent a house.

It is because of this particular behaviour, people of minority and disadvantaged communities seek ghettos rather than a posh neighbourhood of bigotted lot.

racist poster
For representational purposes only.

Then she goes on to point out some not so obvious facts, which until pointed out are taken too much for granted, such as the colour of the bandage, which is said to be of skin colour. Whose skin colour you may ask, well of-course of the caucasian race. One particular point made here in the context of racism, that may feel relatable to any and every person belonging to a minority or oppressed community, which is an act for speaking for the entire group or community you belong to.

Every act of individuals who belong to unprivileged, disadvantaged communities, is seen as a representation of the whole and is taken to reflect on the entire group. Mcintosh quite effectively brings home the unaddressed embedded forms of privilege through this simple and candid piece of writing.

The Problem With Speaking For Others And Why You Should Pass On The Mic

On the other hand, Linda Alcoff in ‘The Problem of Speaking for Others’ takes a much more philosophical approach to uncover the problems of speaking on someone else’s behalf.

She begins by giving few examples of instances where an individual, groups, and organizations, acted in their understood capacity of speaking for others and ended up being more harmful than of any actual use. Certain examples, such as when the President of the United States seeks to represent the “voice of Panamian people” and in that quest invades Panama, the unpleasantness of such a move is somewhat obvious to comprehend and frown about.

However, on the other hand, the instance where a famous Canadian novelist Anne Cameron writing about native Canadian women, is seen as “taking the space” that belongs to the native women by writing for them, while herself being a white woman, by extension a woman of privilege, raise certain doubts.


In this example, it is difficult to outright condemn Cameron, for her feminist writings on Indigenous women (here, the native Canadian) had been profoundly impactful in bringing ‘them’ to the forefront of narration. But this is the facet that Alcoff aims to bring out through this paper, that writing or speaking from a point of privilege about ‘them’ will always be flawed in the sense that the speaker, with a different locus-standi, with their own privileged socio-economic backgrounds, can only have as much understanding of and not the lived experience of being or belonging to a certain group.

Alcoff stretches the argument further and questions the existence of group identity or the criteria of demarcating a particular group. The overlapping nature of many different identities that each experiences by the virtue of their geographical, as well as socio-economical backgrounds, make them an individual, different from any other, with whom they might share one or more group characteristics but definitely not all of it.

Alcoff’s argument, however, is not one-sided and she takes into account the problem of only speaking for oneself and whether all instances of speaking for others should be condemned. If everyone was to only speak for themselves it may lead to a complete lack of accountability, wherein, no one in any capacity is responsible for their utterances as being hurtful, disparaging, or simply untrue.

This is because most of the time the idea of speaking for themselves is taken as a free license to speak about anything under the sun and shrug off the responsibility of the consequences of one’s utterances under the guise of ‘speaking just for myself’.

Both the papers discussed above deal with the unseen effects of issues arising out of privilege and its lack thereof in our understanding of society. There are no concrete, black and white solutions to the problems discussed above. What instead is required is the willingness to simply listen, to let others speak, to not patronize to the extent of killing someone else’s individuality by melting it into group identity and a larger cause.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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