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Talking Gender And Caste At Workplaces Isn’t ‘Too Political’, It’s Being Responsible

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ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

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Sexism at the workplace is not a new trend yet the only place it gets mentioned is in hushed discussions at house parties when nothing better can be found to keep the conversation going. It is deemed too controversial and political to talk about something that directly affects half of the entire population. The exploitative, gendered practices are not just limited to white-collar jobs but pervade almost every other sphere of our social lives.

First, equality of opportunity though envisaged theoretically hardly makes its way into the executive sphere. Women face the added burden on account of their gender while availing basic services such as education and professional opportunities. Owing to a medieval mindset that still abounds in a male-dominated society, women are primarily considered fit enough for the job of a homemaker, without any formal pay or access to resources.

This invisible labour, performed by thousands of women across the nation, sustains and enables their male counterparts to have a comparatively better shot at work opportunities and secure a better livelihood. Even when the male members of a household decide to “let” their daughter/wife/daughter-in-law work a job, she is expected to keep up her domestic responsibilities under the ratcheted-up pressure.

The invisible labour of a homemaker performed by thousands of women across the nation, sustains and enables their male counterparts to have a comparatively better shot at work opportunities. Representational image.

More so, it is often considered a sign of progressiveness on the part of the male members to allow women to work, the agency of which they never had in the first place.

The Case Of (Missing) Women In Positions Of Power

The very chance to take any competitive examination becomes so minimal for women that any woman doing so successfully is considered to be an exception. Anna Rajam Malhotra, independent India’s first woman IAS officer had to fight gender-bias every step of her way as she tried to prove that she was at par with her male counterparts. It was not much different for CB Muthamma either, India’s first woman IFS officer who had to battle sexist marriage rules to make a place for herself in the coveted service.

It was not because of incompetence or lesser qualifications that these women were discriminated against. The entire institutionalized misogyny stemmed from a very well-entrenched and pervasive yet dangerous idea that women are in general, inferior to men.

Even after over seventy years of independence and efforts for inclusion of women in public spheres, the situation is not much better. According to a 2019 ThePrint report on gender divide at the highest echelons of power, only 11 women are posted as Union Secretaries among a total of 88 officers. Barring a couple of women officers who were posted in crucial ministries, the others occupied less attractive posts.

The corporate sector is not overflowing with equality either. Of the companies that made it to the 2019 Fortune 500 list, the CEOs of mere 33 of them are women. Leave the top echelons aside, the rampant stereotypes about women in technical sectors are mind-boggling.

Women are considered to be the secondary choice for availing any resource or opportunity if a male counterpart is in the race for the same. It is for this reason that the Delhi government undertook an ambitious and necessary initiative to make public transport (metros) free for women. Refusing to comprehend the rationale behind the policy measure, vested interests indulged in beating the drums about reverse sexism and discrimination against men.

The percentage of women in law-making bodies is not very encouraging. While the figure rose to a record high of 14% in the 17th Lok Sabha, it is a marginal increase from the figure of 5% in the maiden Lok Sabha of independent India. Furthermore, a sizable figure of 264 constituencies have never elected a woman MP from 1952 to 2019. Pervasive misogyny, sexism and glass ceilings at every step of the way contribute to this plight.

Even when women are catapulted into positions of power, more often than not, they are used as the proxy of a male member of the family who could not occupy the position owing to legal or political considerations. A rather fallacious but popular argument that tries to justify this botched up scenario is that women are inherently under-qualified and inferior to men.

While this is prima facie an outrageous assumption, it is important to understand where this stems from. After having institutions of power to themselves for centuries, a new burgeoning era of equal rights is rattling patriarchal authorities. As a result, in a mode of defensive mechanism, they resort to various reasonings ranging from pseudo-scientific theorization to barrages of sexist slurs.

Manual scavenging has over 95% of women of the total number of employed people. Representational image.

And While Women Continue To Face The Bias, Some Women Have It Worse

This worrisome situation turns even sorrier for the women belonging to marginalized communities and castes. In 2019, Ramya Haridas became the second-ever Dalit woman MP from the state of Kerala. Moreover, manual scavenging – an inhumane and medieval way of cleaning up waste by directly descending into sewers and toxic manholes has over 95% women of the total number of employed people.

A glance at the scenario is enough to tell us how women from marginalized castes not only face the brunt of gender-bias but also battle casteism to avail basic resources, access to opportunities and get accorded dignity.

It is indeed a sorry state of affairs that even after seventy-plus years of independence and self-governance, we have ignored the invisible labour that goes into our economy, industry and society. Dozens of legislations serve very little purpose other than serving as a labyrinth of confusion for the powerful and privileged to skirt and circumvent the law in order to maintain their hegemony.
Workplaces are something we encounter daily, a functional and crucial cog of the wheel of our life.

Yet, every time we refuse to entertain a discussion regarding the nuances of gender and caste at workplaces citing it to be too political, we are shying away from an important responsibility. Gender bias and casteism at the workplace are serious issues that need to be comprehended sociologically and sorted out at the earliest. The dawn of a new era of equality, transparency and inclusiveness depends on us stepping up to the challenge.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

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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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