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Revisiting Arab Spring In 2021

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It has been a decade since that Spring came when Arabs rose against totalitarian rule. It was the spring that brought in itself the seeds of revolution and the winds of change. It was the time when people were out on the streets seeking their rightful rights. Whatever is written here isn’t coming from an Arab. It is from someone who was glued to TV sets when it started and was inspired by the people’s power. Back in those days in 2010 when it all started from Tunisia and matured in Egypt and Libya, it seemed like it was out of history books or movies.

Fast Forward To 2020

It was an ode to people’s power. Fast forward to 2020, many questions arise now. Did people really achieve what they wanted: freedom, a higher standard of living, and corruption-free governance? Tunisia is the only nation that had a comparatively peaceful transition back then. As far as Egypt is concerned, the Government that people chose was overthrown within a year by Army general Abdel Fateh El-Sisi.

Visuals from a Support Arab Spring protest in Pittsburgh, USA, in 2011.

The brutality which El-Sisi imposed on the freedom of speech and the impunity with which he deposed the democratically elected leader casts aspersion on the desired outcome of Arab spring. El-Sisi, who despite acting like an autocrat, happens to be liked by the western media. Putting a blind eye to his wrongdoings, he was recently honoured with France’s highest civilian honour.

This felicitation and acceptance by the Western leader and neighbour Israel made him more stringent in his measures. Was this the outcome that supporters of Arab Spring wanted? If what people chose is against the interests of western and neighbouring powers, will people’s choice still be upheld? Are those people who rightly fought against the autocratic regime of likes of Ben Ali, Hosni Al Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi happy with the outcome?

If yes, what are they happy for? These nations don’t seem uplifted, in fact, there seems to be more inequality, more trampling down of people’s rights. Libya has been in civil war since then. Everything good that was there has been washed away. It has become a battleground for the local and international players fighting hard to see their respective faction gaining control over the resources. Rather than a revolution of people, it has turned into a bloody battle between warring factions.

A New Revolution

What started as a hope that People’s power would prevail over the despotic rulers ended leaving a bitter taste. It gave us a lesson that when people’s movement starts, it should be led by the people who have a vision. The leaders or the intellectuals must come forward during the movement itself and brainstorm over how to tackle the unseen when the current movement ends.

The ideals for which the people fought haven’t been achieved yet. The only thing that was achieved was momentarily success, the downfall of leaders who had been ruling for decades. Other things which sparked the whole movement are still there with much harsher rules in place so that people never rise again. It’s just one despot has been replaced by another autocrat. Look at the precarious situation of Yemen, it’s burning.

And all the countries are silent about it as it’s not that strategically important. What mattered also in these uprisings was who were the rebels, what were they fighting against? Saudi led western nations gave support to the parties if the rebels could further their cause. In Libya, Gaddafi’s behaviour was unruly undoubtedly. What actually proved to be the game-changer was that he wasn’t afraid of western powers so they meddled in Libya to provide logistical support to rebels so that finally Gaddafi could be ousted.

They got what they wanted: Ouster of Gaddafi, a thorn, but what people got was a divided nation. People all around have every right to stand up for what they feel is right. What Arabs in 2010-2011 tried to do was so brave and beautiful. No one would have imagined that leaders ruling for decades could be overthrown within weeks. It will always be remembered for the people’s fearlessness and perseverance.

Why Did The Arab Spring Fail?

What failed this revolution was myopic foresight of those who were managing this. Planning the outset of the revolution was perfect but sustaining and making it workable turned out to be difficult. Syria is another example of a failed Arab Spring. Syria has now become a ghost country; with millions killed and displaced, rendered homeless, social and economic infrastructure destroyed. It will take years before Syria could come to its former glory. So, the Arab Spring changed many things some for better and some for worse. It will again take many years before we can rightly judge the aftereffects of this revolution.

The aftermath of the Syrian war in the city of Aleppo.

That spring was supposed to create a new identity for Arabs. It was a time when Arabs stood up bravely. They showed everyone out there that once they put their mind onto something, they can take out even those who have been there for decades. They remained honest to their vision for more than 2 years to see it through to get the fruits of toil. If others hadn’t meddled, maybe spring would have finally arrived in Arab nations.

Perhaps it is a wake-up call to Arabs and all of us that nations with vested interests need to be called out for their role in creating the trails of destruction. It is time for Arabs to unite and adopt such policies which will lead to the development of their nations, create more employment opportunities and raise the standard of living for their citizens. And all this needs to be executed from within. Right now Arab identity is in crisis.

It seems they’re a group of fractured nations with contradictory goals. Hopefully in the times to come, Arabs will really have a spring where they will be ushered into an era of sustainable development and cultural excellence. And there will be an Arab renaissance but one that will not be created by Europeans or any outsider but by Arabs themselves.

By Shaista Nazir(Economics lecturer)

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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.

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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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