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Utthan Congratulates A Andavalli For Her Success, Resilience And Courage

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Dear A Andavalli,

First of all heartiest congratulations for emerging victorious in the local body election and being elected as the block president in the same block you have been serving for 10 long years. Your story has been a source of inspiration because it ensures that a person from an extremely underprivileged background can make it big, irrespective of the hardships. The amount of exemplary courage and self-confidence you have shown in taking up this important role is noteworthy.

What also struck us glaringly is the role of the comrades in your party, the peers in your family, your neighbours and the people of the block you are serving in having faith in you and motivating you to take up the big responsibility that altogether contributed towards making this change effective.

These people have set up an example to rise above the mentality to discriminate individuals based on their caste, gender, formal qualification, etc. Breaking the stigma and setting example becomes a lot more effective when society changes for good, where lack of privilege is considered with empathy.

In our organisation Utthan, we, the survivors of human trafficking, work as community leaders to help other survivors of trafficking and their families come out of the stigma and lead a healthier life. We also talk to different stakeholders to ensure our rights: social, legal, judicial, basic rights, etc. Therefore, we could connect with your story at a personal level. With the emergence of your story, we have been motivated to prepare ourselves to represent our people at a significant rank someday.

Bringing this change calls for a lot of hard work. We want to talk to the people and sensitise them regarding how and why underprivileged people need to represent themselves in policymaking. We often tend to forget that people with lived experience of discrimination are the best people to know about what people living with similar discriminations need and what policies could help them for real. They often develop simple and practical solutions that people with vast academic knowledge tend to miss out.

In order to bring this change, we’ll also have to let our community know about the existing privilege hierarchy and the forms of discriminations that are predominant in our society and prepare them to face the upcoming difficulties. Our community leaders have been discriminated, stigmatised and subjected to humiliation on several occasions for being trafficking survivors when they went to meet with the stakeholders. These are the instances where self-doubt emerges, which takes us several steps back.

However, your story has boosted up our confidence by leaps and bounds. We have started to consider that if some of us occupy the stakeholder’s posts, someday, they would become a safe space for the other survivors and underprivileged people to reach out to and discuss their problems and demands. We are willing to share your story in our awareness campaigns to let them know that with passion, self-determination and positive support from the allies and peers, the most underprivileged people can become people’s representatives.

We need more examples like you — the survivors of discrimination due to lack of privilege concerning caste, class, gender, religion, physical ability, etc., to come forward with inspirational stories and motivate more people.

In the public sector, duty bearers often fail to comprehend the underprivileged people’s struggle and the survivors of violence because they have never been at the receiving end of the problem. Most of them have a majoritarian privilege which stops them from seeing things from the perspective of the discriminated. By placing people, whose survival depends on fighting these social atrocities, the whole dynamics of the working relationship between the people in power and the people needing support is going to change.

Skills can be developed; experience grows over time. However, empathy and understanding cannot be taught. It comes from within, from bearing the wounds of discrimination for being a woman/gender minority or being born poor or belonging to Dalit/Bahujan/Adivasi communities or being a survivor of violence.

Therefore, people with lived experiences should be given the priority in assigning them the roles of public sector officials because no equality exists without its foundation being in equity and equity begins from prioritising the underprivileged and giving them facilities to beat the discrimination.

There is a set idea that politics corrupt people and individuals entering mainstream politics get amoral, giving in to be a part of the fraudulent system, forgetting all promises. We sincerely hope you break this narrative and continue serving the people with utmost honesty and good intentions.

Love and solidarity,

Utthan Survivors Collective

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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, 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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