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Children And Young People Campaign For #MyPlanetMyRights

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By Charuta Puranik, Vindhya Jyoti, and Alicia Tauro

Every person has the right to a clean, safe and healthy environment and equally a responsibility to safeguard it. Children and young people across the world are demanding climate justice and urging countries to take urgent action for the earth and the environment.

Children and youth campaign for #MyPlanetMyRights

As part of the Global Action Month campaign in November initiated by Terre des Hommes (TDH), Germany, children, and youth in select communities where the non-profit Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) works participated in the campaign ‘My Planet My Rights’. The children and young people took the campaign to their streets to spread awareness about environmental degradation and the need for its restoration, and to demand policymakers for a clean environment. The rights of children to a clean environment have been acknowledged by the United Nations Human Rights Council through a report by the Special Rapporteur in its resolution 28/11.

This article presents a quick overview of the initiatives led by the children and youth from the communities of Behrampada, Bandra, and Malwani, Malad, Mumbai.

The Right To A Healthy Environment

The UN body recognizes the right of children and youth to an environment that is conducive for healthy growth, which provides enough opportunity for comprehensive development through cultural and biological diversity and has the potential of providing them positive prospects. Based on these themes, the children led the following activities.

An awareness rally on My Planet My Rights was organized wherein children pasted stickers with messages promoting the campaign and its goals in public places (such as walls, doors, shutters, etc) across their community.

 

The children and youth performed street plays across communities, spreading awareness on the issues of waste dumping, water contamination, air pollution, cutting of trees, and lack of open spaces. Children reported how they themselves learned lessons from the street plays organised. Sara (name changed) said the street plays helped her realize how she must stop littering her surroundings. She shared, ‘Many people initially criticized and tried to discourage us. They said, you are wasting your time on unimportant things, but later they were willing to support us’.

The children also prepared best-out-of-waste models to demonstrate recycling and encouraged the people in the settlements to separate wet and dry waste at their homes. The children and youth, during the social audit, noticed that some residents who don’t have separate bins for each type of waste using two separate plastic bags but don’t refrain from segregating the waste. The residents responded positively to the activity to segregate waste, but they pointed out that despite their efforts, the waste collector was taking it away in the same compartment without segregation.

Littering is a major issue in our locality. People dump waste in the nearby lakes and open spaces. The waste collectors should come twice a day. There are some remote locations around us where the waste-collecting vehicles don’t even reach. Even the dumping bins near our bastis are insufficient in number. More needs to be done! Even in these times of the pandemic, the hygiene is not maintained properly’ said a child. 

Problems And A Sense Of Hope

One youth member shared, ‘We have sent letters to our MLA. But have not received any response, either in the form of any verbal assurance or action’. Another youth said, ‘We don’t think this impact will last long in our locality. There are many remote places in the community that we also find difficult to reach, nor are they interested to come forward and watch our street play performance. On the other hand, there are some chawls/localities who have joined us or, at the least, show some positive response towards our initiatives’. There is a sense of hope that slowly and steadily things can change.

Street play by children and youth

Wall paintings and murals were done by children and youth in public spaces and community walls to promote the campaign further. The children, in collaboration with the residents in their area, painted attractive art with catchy slogans on the walls of and near the bastis focused on ‘My Planet My Rights’ to spread awareness about protecting the forest, prevent the cutting of trees, and support the planting of new trees.

We even initiated tree planting for awareness. People were initially critical about a few trees like banyan (barged) and sacred fig (peepal), because of their belief about the potential of those trees of housing demons.’ says Ruksana. ‘But when we told them about their utility to life and humans, like providing ample amounts of oxygen, shade, and so on, they supported us. One of them even took the tools out of our hands and started digging and planting the trees.’

We also had some negative experiences. A few of our plants were pulled out by the rickshaw drivers claiming it to be a rickshaw stand. We had some arguments there trying to seek support,’ said a child representative.

Plastic, rubber, metal, and numerous non-biodegradable and ecologically hazardous substances have become a common part of our daily lifestyle, so much so that we bypass the thought of its impact on the environment, let alone think of any eco-friendly alternatives. Children and youth shared the value of eco-friendly alternatives such as reusable-mask painting, paper bag making, etc. that can be of great value as well as be sustainable for the environment. Workshops were held in the community about cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives To Explore

Children and young people initiated kitchen gardening by planting edible varieties in the available space, which can be used in the daily cooking at their homes. Children were trained with the basti residents on kitchen gardening by a youth member, and later many of them shared how they have taken it up as a hobby with their family members.

Children, through workshops, learned how they could make paper bags from available newspapers around them, which they can use in their daily life. Trained children and youth took the initiative further, talking about the harmful effects of plastic. They are encouraging community members to use more cloth-based and paper bags.

To spread awareness on wearing masks and encourage the use of reusable masks, awareness demos were presented on the streets. A short play was staged in which the children and young people shared how masks are often unaffordable or people are unwilling to spend on them. The children suggested making home-made masks. They collected handkerchiefs from the localities and returned them to the people in the form of home-made masks.

The youth participated in a mangrove walk where they understood the crucial importance of conserving this habitat, the history of their settlement around the mangroves, and more. ‘We didn’t know what mangroves were, although they were there in our own area.’ says Ruksana. ‘We learned how they protect us during floods, by preventing the water from entering our bastis.

Ruksana mentions how she and her friends are so determined on creating change that they have decided to work on waste management till the problem is eradicated, ‘only then will we think about any other issue’ she says.

Recognizing that a clean environment is a right and a responsibility of each person, children and youth plan to lead the initiative towards making their community more clean, healthy, and environmentally sustainable, be it via regularly engaging in cleaning activities, by collaborating with waste management officials, helping in waste segregation at the household level, or by driving awareness on the conservation of mangroves.

The children and youth are very vocal about the issues they face in and around their areas, and keen to act on them. They are optimistic that despite the frequent challenges faced, their regular efforts will pay off. They feel empowered by their knowledge and actions and are keen to take this ahead further with the people’s support.

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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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