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“Girls Cannot Drink, Boys Don’t Cry” – The Double Standards In Our Society

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Written by: Uma Sathwika Manda

Every parent cares for their children. But for the parents of girl children in India, it is a whole different tale. They are so perturbed by a myriad of little things that they actually forget to address fundamental issues. Growing up in this very society gives us many experiences that validate the same. Patriarchy, double standards, rape culture, taboos, suppression, and so on.

Growing up as a girl in this country is even harder. One of the major issues with this is that parents themselves approve of womxn’s subjugation in many different ways. In this article, we go through girls’ upbringing in India and understand why these methods are wrong.

Taboos And Double Standards

Period! A word that many girls cannot utter in front of their own mothers that get periods too. Jaw-dropping, isn’t it? Menstruation is a natural phenomenon. Yet, most girls in India are not told of it unless they become menstruators.

Many have no information about tampons and menstrual cups. They aren’t aware of why they even get periods. Yes, this is about that lecture in biology that was given as homework and was never taught. Many girls don’t know about their own bodies. They cannot explore their sexualities even though they wish to. Most teenagers learn about sex either through friends or through pornography. There is no formal sex education in the country. This is India in the 21st century.

And there are double standards too. For those unaware, in a nutshell, double standards are those standards that society sets on people based on their gender. “Girls cannot drink, boys don’t cry” – these are a threat to the survival of any girl in India. She is not allowed to go out with guys. She has to be home before it’s dark. Her dressing style provokes men, and it is not about the man’s insatiable lust.

Girls should not try to disobey their parents, while it is perfectly okay if you are a boy and you do it. Men that have lost virginity before marriage are considered attractive and naughty, while womxn that do the same are labeled as sluts. Society calls a womxn’ bossy’ when she discharges her duties and delegates the work to people working with her. An independent womxn is considered to be dominating while she and her husband are fine with it. There are a thousand such examples of double standards that prevail in the country.

Suppression And Reinforcement Of Patriarchy

Ever seen your mother not letting your father do any household chores? Yes, womxn accept patriarchy and reinforce it too. Your parents might not be doing this consciously, but this does happen. But what is the big deal if a man helps his wife do the washing or clean the utensils?

It has always been that way, many say. And it has been that way since girls are taught from childhood that they are to do all the household work and take up the responsibility of looking after everyone in the entire family tree. They are never taught to respect their feelings. Eventually, these womxn try finding happiness in that of others’.

Why not try to imagine a house in which both the spouses’ work and they share all the household work between themselves? Doesn’t that make life easier? Since childhood, everyone dreams of becoming something that has somehow appealed to them. Hold on, if you are a girl with conservative parents, let your dreams wither away. Get married to a rich guy and serve his family.

In most cases, men suppress ambitious womxn (this is sometimes also done by other womxn). This either makes them become the victims or helps them succeed if they courageously manage to bounce back. Girls must be taught from an early age that their dreams matter too.

What if Ms Indira Gandhi wasn’t empowered by her father? Who knows what one might become? Parenting is, in fact, more important than most people perceive it to be. It just doesn’t negatively affect the girls but also teaches the boys to try suppressing the girls around them. So, if this cycle just goes on, there would never be an egalitarian and inclusive society.

An End To Patriarchy

Now, what are the ways in which parents can take steps to end patriarchy? Firstly, both girls and boys are to be treated equally at home. There should be no communication lags between the parents and the children. Children should be taught everything, and it should be ensured that the taboo words are put into use so as to normalize them.

They should be taught from a very young age that society always assumes things and that it is very judgemental. Kids must be made aware that they should always try to pursue whatever they wish to and not give in just because someone tries to stop them from doing so.

Also, as Amy Mits said, “Before talking about feminism, we need to identify the women that undermine other women. We need to tackle that like being controlled by men. We need to counsel women that envy other women’s success. How can we achieve an egalitarian society if women don’t support women?

Parenting plays a crucial role in every child’s life, and it is the onus of the parents to cater to their children’s needs carefully. Normalizing patriarchal phenomena like rape culture and slut-shaming leads to the boys imbibing patriarchal values.

Boys must be taught of periods, of doing household chores by themselves, of respecting womxn that assert themselves to be independent, of understanding that a ‘NO’ always means a ‘NO’, of treating womxn as equals and not be proud of having given them something that has been snatched away from them for centuries, and of making them understand that they should understand womxn. The parents should also ensure they practice what they preach. Finally, as Peter Kreeft said, “Be egalitarian regarding persons and elitist regarding ideas.”

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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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