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How Young Girls Came Together To Speak Up Against Injustices In The Society

We started with a vision. A vision to empower adolescent girls and young women to stand up for themselves and emerge as changemakers. As leaders. As live-ers of their rights and dreams. As believers.


Every year, we at The Gender Lab work in schools across Mumbai, Delhi, and Jind (Haryana), where 20-25-year-old women (The Gender Lab fellows) mentor adolescent girls in solving social issues in their communities. Together, they take up a social issue, research it by going on the field, talking to people or reading about it, and then taking action.

Some of the issues which they raise are access to safe drinking water by complaining to the municipal corporation, talk to the police about the sexual harassment faced by women and girls in their area, ensure safety in their community to help them step out of their homes without being scared, raising gender issues prevalent at home to claim their space, etc.

Ten years later, we stand with the same vision. Only this time, we have 30,000+ girls and young women sharing that vision with us. The dream is to empower ourselves and each other, stand up against gender-based violence, question gender stereotypes, exercise our power as girls and women, and raise our voice.

My Voice, Our Equal Future

This year, on the occasion of the International Day of the Girl 2020, The Gender Lab acknowledged and celebrated the voices of adolescent girls by hosting an event ‘मैं बोलूंगी‘ (I will speak up). This aligned with UNICEF’s theme, ‘My voice, our equal future‘.

The intention was to amplify the voices of adolescent girls to stand up for their rights, to amplify their work in their communities, and to enable them to reimagine a gender-equal world. The highlight of the event was the coming together of around 300 adolescent girls from both rural and urban settings, despite the constraints they have been facing in the midst of the CoVid-19 pandemic like lack of financial support, safety, internet connection, increased domestic work at home, exposure to gender-based violence, and discontinued education.

These girls came together that day to make the event happen, to make their event happen. For the first time ever, we hosted an all-adolescent-girls panel discussion. We believe in shared power, and the organization of this entire event was centred around the needs expressed by the girls, girls themselves co-holding the panel discussion, setting topics to be discussed, and hosting the event.

How The Girls Themselves Made It Happen

A group of girls volunteered to mobilize their friends online from school and community and assisted our outreach team. Their ‘didis’ (The Gender Lab fellows who mentored them) got in touch with them, and with their help, we could reach out to girls from the remotest places! The panellists and the moderator spent each day practising with the team (our daily dose of inspiration!) and preparing for the D-day.

The panel girls were selected to consist of girls from all spheres of representation like geography (urban and rural), class, caste, and religion, which enriched the panel with intersectional, inclusive, and wholesome insights. These were also the girls who had already brought a change in their community by working on social issues like caste and gender discrimination, health and hygiene, clean public toilets, awareness on traffic rules, girls’ right to education and women employment.

So when these girls spoke on the panel, they spoke from their lived experiences. It would be safe to say that together, they showed us how an adolescent girl could question things around her, take ownership of social issues and utilize their leadership skills and the fact that girls are capable of bringing change in the world.

Other values that they showed throughout the preparation of the event was sisterhood and perseverance. When 15-year-old Ravina from Jind felt she wasn’t speaking well during the practice round, Siddhi and Qamar from Mumbai immediately encouraged her! “रवीना, आप अच्छा बोल रहे हो। लम्बी सास लेलो अभी फिरसे कोशिश करते हैं।(Ravina, you are speaking well. Take a deep breath now and let’s try again). When Pratibha from Delhi, who was hosting the event, showed immense patience and confidence while practising, which increased our belief that we can make the event happen successfully!

Muskan and Abitha were facing many mobility and internet issues, and yet somehow, with blurred screens and cracking audio, they were present for every practice session so that they could speak about the change they made in their community.

“When we stepped out in the community to speak to people to treat boys and girls equally, we were finally able to speak our minds and heart out because we were feeling confident.”
– Anju, Haryana

With this kind of strength and support with us prior to the event, added to the unyielding presence of The Gender Lab fellows and team in mobilizing girls for the event, planning the flow of the event, constantly encouraging the girls (even talking to 70-80 girls in a day!), designing a workshop and preparing to make the day perfect for their girls, we geared up for 11th October.

मैं बोलूंगी

In the morning, about 300 girls joined us on the Zoom call from across Mumbai, Delhi, Jind (Haryana) to imagine and create a gender-equal world for each other. These girls belong to varied identities and diversities, but one common string that brings them together is their journey of being the changemakers in their community and solving issues on the ground through their projects.

Here is what they want caregivers, educators, leaders and decision-makers to know:

  • We need safe physical spaces where we don’t face any street sexual harassment or any form of violence.
  • There must be awareness programs and conscious steps taken to remove the stereotypes that society holds about how a girl and woman should be.
  • Many of us need free or subsidized education, scholarships and mentorship opportunities in order to build our careers and dreams.
  • We need women to be respected and celebrated in all types of career fields and jobs.
  • One of our biggest needs is to have our parents and communities’ support and trust in our dreams and our abilities. We want the freedom to make decisions about our future without the fear of being judged or feeling unsafe.
  • We appeal to all the citizens of the world to be aware of gender stereotypes around us and take action to prevent it. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment must not take place or be tolerated at workplaces and in educational institutions.

Magic During The Panel Discussion

In the evening, the initial plan was to do a live panel discussion with the girls. However, after realizing that adolescent girls still don’t have mobile phones or proper internet connection, a part of the panel discussion was recorded and screened.

14-year-old Abitha Kounder from Mumbai spoke about the project she and her group did on clean public toilets. Her team wrote a letter to the MLA to raise this issue. She shared that this journey has helped her to be more vocal and build teamwork qualities.

15-year-old Ravina from Jind said that now a girl in their community has resumed her studies because of the project done by her. She gained courage and confidence and is able to speak in front of people now.

She said on the panel that the thoughts and ideas of adolescent girls matter so that they don’t have to face the atrocities that their mothers and grandmothers suffered. They want to put an end to this cycle of suffering. She really wishes to hear from the world that girls are capable of doing whatever they dream of and feel like doing.

We launched ‘Main Bolungi song‘ for the girls all across the globe on this day. This song conveys the turmoil of emotions girls goes through, but they say ‘Main Bolungi’. This song is written and composed by Preeti Kanungo and sung by Tanya Jain, who are both The Gender Lab fellows. We hope to encourage the voices, dreams, and magic of all the adolescent girls out there with this song.

Together, we believe, we can create a gender-equal world!

Note: If you want to co-create the ‘Main Bolungi’ song in your regional language with us, we would love to explore that! Reach out to us at 



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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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