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Did You Hear About UP’s Creepy Solution To Promote Women’s Safety?

On January 20th,2021, Lucknow Police Commissioner, D.K Thakur, announced at a workshop conducted at the Lucknow University, that Lucknow Police will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) cameras to detect “women’s distress”.

The AI cameras would automatically click pictures of women in distress “on the basis of their facial expression” in public spaces, forcing police to take immediate action. The cameras would be set up on 200 hotspots across Lucknow, on the basis of the maximum movement of women and locations of maximum registered complaints.

Tracking, Surveillance And Victim Blaming – Why This Move Is Extremely Problematic.

The program, dubbed “Mission Shakti” takes pictures of women without their consent or without them even knowing and shares them with the police. It is intrusive and a breach of women’s privacy, to say the very least. Its main focus is to track and control the movements of women rather than taking appropriate action towards curbing violence against women.

Tracking and regulating women’s freedom is not the solution to women’s safety. Representative image only.

They are also yet to define what  women’s distress on the basis of facial expressions mean. As rightfully pointed out by Anushka Jain, Associate Counsel, Transparency and Right to Information, that it is not necessary that women are being harassed based solely on her facial expressions. It is very much a possibility that the woman is upset due to a completely different reason but how would the device understand that then?

This brings us to an important point; women would now need to be more careful with expressing distress (as the state defines it) out of the fear that it might activate a surveillance camera. Women have been, since their childhood, conditioned to not express their discomfort, anger or any other negative emotions and to live by the codes dictated by the patriarchal society and this program does not help with the conditioning. Instead, it adds more to the problem. Young girls and women would now be taught how to not express negative emotions, publicly and escape alerting the camera.

It also brings forth another major issue; stalking and tracking a woman’s movement. The underlying factor here is not women’s safety or protection; it is about controlling her movement. It is about the power dynamics which weighs heavily on the side of the state. This phenomenon is termed as ‘disciplinary power” by Michel Foucault. Foucault describes it as control through surveillance and monitoring the population as a means of asserting control over them.

This method can be described as psychological surveillance and controlling, by inducing the fear of being watched constantly. Prison, workplaces, hospitals, schools and even homes are being constantly monitored. The same idea is being used by the state to monitor the actions of the women in order to control them. It misplaces the blame on the victim and absolutely leaves the perpetrator out of the conversation.

This Is Not The First Time The State Has Tried To Regulate Women’s Free Movement

This is not the first time that a measure as outrageous as this one has been brought forth. Very recently Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had introduced a new system where women would have to register themselves at the nearest police station whenever she steps out of her house. The police would then be tracking her based on the information she had to provide.

Though it is not clear if it would be a compulsory step or based on choice but either way it reinforces the same idea of monitoring and regulating a woman’s free movement. It further reinstates the age old notion of putting the onus of her safety on the woman, curbing her freedom for her own good and asserting that a woman should always be accompanied by a male member (of the family)  for protection because we are incapable of protecting ourselves.

This reinstates the idea and mentality of victim-blaming. Along with that, it implies that only women can be victims of sexual harassment on streets. It does nothing to address (in fact erases) the reality that cis-gendered heterosexual men and people from the queer community are daily victims of violence and sexual harassment on streets.

It also fails to address that insignificant number of cases the perpetrators are known to the victims and major numbers of such cases take place in secluded and deserted areas and in homes.

Sensitization And Sex Education, NOT Surveillance, Is The Solution to Women’s Safety!

In 2018, Thompsom Reuters Foundation released a study ranking India the most dangerous place in relation to women’s safety and atrocities against women, surpassing countries like Syria and Afghanistan. The report noted that crimes against women rose to a startling 83 percent from 2007 to 2016.

Every four hours a woman is raped in this country. In such a scenario, the Indian government/ state should be more focused on curbing harassment and not tracking and monitoring a woman every time she leaves her house.

Introducing sex education and educating young children about consent in schools, installing active cells in institutions to curb and address sexual harassment, educating and sensitizing law enforcers on how to address situations involving victims and survivors, more swift actions on behalf of the police, investing in rapid law processes involving sexual harassment and abuse can be some of the ideas that the state can opt to prevent both macro and micro aggressions against women and gender minorities.

Constantly tracking women and their every movement would not help prevent crimes against them and will further victimize and marginalize them under the garb of protection.

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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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