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Women’s Basic Rights Are Not “Conditions” That We Ask For, Stop With The Labels!

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Let’s talk about conditional demands. Well yes, let’s also talk about how in India, if a woman speaks up for gaining full control of her life then she is “too demanding”. But first, say hello to the meaning of the word “demand”. Demand means an insistent and peremptory request, made as of right.

This means that demand stems from a right and right stems from freedom. Freedom is not gifted but is rather given to people as soon as they’re born. It’s the patriarchal society the teaches and conditions men and women that some genders particularly women need to “fight” for their basic birthrights.

Let’s take a look at Maslow’s needs of hierarchy and how they are completely rejected by the patriarchal society when it comes to a woman’s perspective. Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming Maslow, I am simply pointing out how patriarchy is dissected and conditioned when it comes to the rights of women.

Photo: Simply Psychology

Take the basic and physiological needs of Maslow’s diagram where he discusses the basic bodily needs such as food, sex, clothing, shelter etc. Those that are not met in a woman’s perspective and if some needs are (sexual particularly), then all we get is sexist judgement. For example, if a woman is having her sexual needs met, she is often termed too “sexual”; if she is having too much “food”, she will grow to be fat and ugly, while she is also expected to eat too much and feed her man. Similarly, her clothing aspects too are limited in some cultures and she is forced to cover her body fully, against her wishes.

She is supposed to wear clothing according to a man according to what men find provocative, safe and sound. This means covering up even her armpits and even legs.

When it comes to Safety needs, and the personal security of a woman, she is not supposed to feel safe. She is expected to silence her voice when she becomes the victim of molestation. She is brainwashed into not filing a report under the name of “shame” and if she does, she first has to be judged on the length of her clothes and whereabouts. She is supposed to be leading on a man, for even molestation.

When it comes to employment, she is supposed to only follow “respectable careers”, and justify her salary at home. Bring in the money and give it to her in-laws rather than spending some on self -care. She is supposed to fight all the resources, financially, mainly and even if she manages to do it, she gets judgement there. Sunny Leone is one such great example who was initially facing judgements for the choice of her then career, pornography.

When it comes to property, yet another of Maslow’s needs,  she is not given any unless her husband dies. For your information- she isn’t allowed to touch that property for her educational needs, travel (for work) needs, she is just expected to remain a silent partner for signing the documents. And if she says no to all of this- well then she is labelled as “too much” or “too demanding’ and her needs are labelled as “conditions”.

Get this:(personal metaphorical reference) – Ankit can become Ankita but Ankita can’t be Ankit (meaning that a man can do anything that he wants and not get shamed for it. Do you think that this is all fair? Do you think women demand too much? Think again. Demand as per Google’s dictionary is a request made up of rights. And come to think of it our demands which are a result of our rights, have never actually been met until we don’t take everything by storm.

When it comes to Maslow’s Esteem needs that talk of love and belonging needs, that entails family, female friendships, and more, are they fulfilled? NO. Women are judged by women themselves in India. On the topic of female friendships, some female friendships are born out of pure jealousy that sometimes turn into a competition. Although that has improved now, all thanks to feminism and the education that comes with it.

In the family, she is expected to have kids, and even she doesn’t, she is blamed. A family for some people, could only be the presence of the partners, for some it’s the need to have kids, and for some couples, family means just them and their pets.

But as women, we are made to feel that we need everything in order to have a “perfect family picture’. Amidst finding and building all of this, do we pay attention to our personal connections? No. And are these connections valuable? No. Up until today, women are disrespected if they show their skin or even if they are comfortable in her own skin.

Representational image.

Lastly, when it comes to Maslow’s esteem needs, do women have that at least? No! Brown women are still discriminated against because of their colour. Remember that women are made to feel “less beautiful”, “less worthy”.

Coming back to the last need of Maslow’s hierarchy, Self -actualization needs, women are judged there too. Their potential is considered to be limited, their creative activities are called out to be “obscene” or “not real”. Take Miley Cryus and Alia Bhatt here as examples. They are both women who once were expected to do stereotypically beautiful roles of beautiful women because they had feminine features that made them attractive. But they decided to break those stereotypes and when they did, they were labelled as “stupid”, “too bold” for it.

When it comes to personal security, we want less judgement on how we dress and live and more work on fast-tracking our FIRs.

When it comes to employment, we want equal pay, more health-care leaves and the best of opportunities to be the kindest of bosses we can be and we want the slut-shaming to stop. When it comes to reproductive needs, we want to take care of our own vagina, our sexualities and we want better birth control methods.

What we need is support and no judgement and no labels. And if they are labels, we want to take ownership of those labels ourselves. Let us choose our own labels or not.

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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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