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Opinion: Home Is Where Misogyny Begins

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Out of the millions of girls born annually in the Indian subcontinent alone, the majority do not live to see another season or even another day. Some of the lucky survivors live in orphanages and/or foster homes, that is, if they outlive the challenge where their biological parents dump them as the first step.

However, some make it to their actual homes upon birth. Families accepting and welcoming a girl child have increased in the past few years. And parents make sure they love and care for their girls in plentitude, with just a few necessary boundaries in return.

Representational image.

Let me start by telling you a wee tale.

Once a brown-skinned girl was born to middle-class parents. Usually, new parents immediately started worrying about the day their girl was to be married, sent into the real world. They did too but they immediately smiled. They were progressive. As parents, they’d make sure their girl obeyed them, learned discipline so that she could be prepared for her future. The baby was welcomed, fed honey and a lot of mamma’s milk.

When she turned one, they pierced her ears. She cried angrily, the ungrateful wretch didn’t value the gold they’d brought for her. Shrill wails echoed and pierced the parents’ and their guests’ auditory membranes in return. Over the months that followed, she scratched and pulled at her ears, and began adding to the list of things her mamma would have to stop her from doing. During her growing years, she laughed loudly and had to be reminded of poise every-time.

The girl kept disappearing behind the not-to-do list despite her maximum presence. But she failed to see the blurring. Life continued, until one day when her perfect partner showed up. Mamma hadn’t helped decide on a college. Study as much, study whatever, what would it really change. Choosing the guy was mamma’s right, though. And this one wasn’t right for the girl. No one was, no one could be. Having guys around meant the girl’s character was flawed.

The parents were outraged, pitiable, talking to everyone about how their own child had cheated them with this tomfoolery. The girl and her perfect friend broke up. Eventually, the girl started hiding and distancing from the parents to keep them from any alleged shame. She was flawed from the day she was born, which had only elevated. Sadly, she or her parents could do nothing to change the modalities of her constantly developing imperfections.

Reader, do you suppose this narrative belongs to this one girl only? I dare to say it belongs to a majority of girls/women in India. A spliced version of each of our individually spiced lives.

Representational image. Photo: BBC

My purpose behind narrating this generalized story, which in one way or another relates to every girl once in their lifetime, is to raise a question upon misogyny. Girls are victims of a society that continually disparages them. But are they really?

From the day a girl is born, no matter how progressive their households are, they’re conditioned into certain beliefs and mannerisms. Growing up, they find their own ways and sometimes later, protest. The preconditioning, however, stays in this comment or that.

Yes, societies and people forming these societies, allege growing girls precocious, scandalous, and make it difficult for them to pave their paths. Girls/women have to explain their actions and experiences. But girls too, form and add to this society. And they also regressively comment on other members of their fraternity. The relation between girls’ speech and intent sometimes remains biased and questionable.

A lot of girls fall in teen-love, breakup, call it an experience. Some find relationships pointless and remain focused on their academic and career pursuits. Some girls read love stories, talk dreamy, are born into loving and privileged families, yet they discourage the idea of love. None of them is wrong. All pursuits of envisaging life are correct. What is wrong, however, is one woman allowing her ambitions to become an egocentric action for another woman.

Because any girl’s childhood experiences, her upbringing, is a lens of her formative lifestyle, a possible source of her fickleness is domestic conditioning. How parents raise their daughters remains and reflects in the modalities of comportment in a woman’s body and/or language throughout her life. Then comes the struggle for change.

When she breaks up with one guy, maybe because her family disapproved, or that the guy was a jerk, insecurities set in. And even if she would be different from another guy, be herself, there would be instances where she would still want her body to behave in a certain way with a guy around. The male gaze becomes important, because either she’s been scandalized for demanding it, or been too meek to ask for it, or been told its objectification.

So maybe, it’s not the society itself that is to blame – it’s the home where one is to begin. To change a bitter outcome, the story needs to be changed.

There are several choices available from which to decide. Ultimately these choices seem irrelevant, illusionary. How can parents alone provide a solution to accentuating a sense of this illusion?

Representational image. Photo: ZORA – Medium

Instead of gendered upbringing focused on internalised objectification, colourism, and inequality; parents can begin by letting their girls decide for themselves. Instead of telling children how immature they are, for most of their lives, read through the depths of their kid’s knowledge.

Instead of telling how having a relationship would ruin their societal image, parents can talk to their children about the options, and the ups and downs, before jumping in on deciding their kids’ fate.

Finally, to shed some light on why I chose this parable of misogynistic narrative to raise questions upon societal and familial indifferences: because I find women at fault about how other women are dealt with.

Women are not all sentimental, frivolous, fragile, duplicitous, yet women need their affection, pampering, hurt, love, scandals in equal shares. However, the oversimplified binary between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviours has not only diminished ethics but has also overturned the meaning of misogyny.

Present horrific logic uses the puzzle of reverse psychology, as in the tale above when the girl is controlled by her parents she keeps her life from them, where sometimes a girl challenges male dominance by saying ‘no’.

Feminist scholars such as Kate Manne, Caroline Criado Perez, and Linda Martín Alcoff have acknowledged the complicated portrayal of women’s bodily behaviours with and without the presence of a man in their lives. These works I reference as corroboration to my claim of women targeting both men and women as a result of reverse psychology from familial conditioning.

Written by: Sakshi Arya

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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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