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Is Going Back To School Even Possible For Everyone?

Only one in every 100 girls enrolled in any Indian school completes class 12th. The Right to Education Act was implemented on 4 August 2009 to allow free and compulsory education for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. Still, India has the largest population of informally educated people in the world.

As per the 2011 census, the female literacy rate in the country was 74%, whereas when the country got independence in 1947 and roots of patriarchy were deeply enrooted in the minds of the nation builders, the literacy rate was a mere 12%.

It took not only 70 long years to make it from 12% to 74% female literacy rate but also the constant efforts of many governments and social workers to break down the backward mindsets of different strata of the society.

Coronavirus made the world stand still and maybe pushed it several steps backwards even. It forced 90% of the schools around the world to shut down in order to curb the spread of the virus. Before Covid-19, out of 30 million children not going to any school, 40% were adolescent girls.

And the stats are likely to increase as it is projected that approximately 10 million secondary school girls might dropout of schools around the world. This will not only affect their education but will also make them prone to risks of child labour, child trafficking or child marriage, followed by early pregnancy, poverty, and domestic violence.

Covid-19 has caused the loss of domestic income in many households, forcing girls to grab any income-surging jobs, making them prone to early marriages, pregnancies, exploitation, violence, dropouts. When parents belonging to socioeconomically backward societies cannot afford a proper education for their girl child, can we expect them to buy digital infrastructures?

Only 28% of girls living in rural areas have access to digital technology, and 33% of girls in urban areas. Even if they have access to smart devices, aren’t girls supposed to handle domestic chores? In April & May 2020, 9 million women in rural areas and 3 million women in urban areas lost their jobs, making it to 30% female unemployment rate.

Not being able to cope up with the prolonged gap, they will be forced to drop out of schools. Only 3.3% of the 2020-21 Union Budget was dedicated to the education sector. Funding has shifted from midday meals to pandemic recovery, so the girls who used to attend school just for food are likely to stop getting an education as well. Unemployment rates are likely to increase harshly. Given the current crisis, one can imagine the dilemma of girls wanting a proper education for themselves.

Being an engineering student in a well-established college myself, I am facing problems with my classes and practicals, despite having the proper infrastructure and family background. One can wonder the difficulties even a girl having a smartphone in rural areas might face.

The problems faced by girls with zero access to any infrastructure is the talk of another universe itself. The government has made some online education provisions available, but what use will they be of if only 14.9% of rural households have internet access? What exactly do we need?

The first thing we need to focus on is how Covid-19 adversely affected the poor households in the country.

  • The government needs to fund essential care services- sanitary pad availability, proper feeding to address hunger and malnutrition, psychological support to children having faced different vulnerable circumstances due to Covid-19 or their families.
  • Governments should increase the number of scholarships and targeted cash transfers to preserve the education of poverty-struck children. It needs to keep circulating funds in the education system and ensure that it benefits everyone equally.
  • They should counsel girls psychologically and provide remedial schooling because they have missed class.
  • Make available access to information on reproductive health and social safety aspects to prepare girls for all kinds of hardships.

Secondly, education for girls under the age of 18 should be free in government/assisted schools. Funds from Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme, can be utilised. For the women who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, free skill training should be arranged.

Thirdly, governments should set up structures to keep track of re-enrolments, create safe spaces, distribute free books & digital devices, and make available access to free internet. Government expenditure on education should increase from 4.4% to 6% of GDP, as required by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

Educational rights have been mandated for over a decade now, and girls still seem to hesitate to claim their rights to education. Is corona the first big problem we are facing, or has it always been the same? The world has experienced social and economic hits again & again, but it has always ensured successful delivery of comprehensive and equitable access to education to its young force. India needs to do the same.

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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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