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Women In Sports Don’t Have It Easy, But They Still Persevere

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Sex ratio is exactly what it reads as, the ratio of males to females in a population which ideally should be 1:1 but is never so depending on several factors. We as humans are not only affected by biology but also by society and culture and thus get away with the manipulation of these numbers to fit our own desire. Some states in our country are poster regions for such manipulation in the name of sex selective abortions.

The most notorious one is Haryana, known for its unbalanced sex ratio staying put in favour of the Y chromosome and weeding out the double X to disturb the unbalance (Irony, am I right?). But as everything has a shelf life, so does the statute of toxic masculinity to suppress gender equality. What must have happened to bring the downfall of an age-old practice to abandon or kill an innocent baby only because she bears different genitalia?

What really changed was the vision, the perception of a girl not as a mere responsibility, a burden, something to pass on but as an individual of her own being, someone who could be as successful as her male counterpart, someone who could make her parents as or even more proud than her brother, she is not anymore a trophy wife but a trophy winner herself. Education opened the roads both for a career in academics as well as sports, education of parents and society painted over the ancient rule book of women as subservient.

Source: The Quint

The Real Dangal Of Breaking The Glass Ceiling

While women in academics go back in time, sports remained uncharted territory in India for the female gender until 1952, when Mary D’Souza Sequeira became the first female contingent to represent the Helsinki country Olympics, opening up the ground for others to grace. An international representation at a big event as the Olympics led to a gradual increase in the acceptance of women in sports.

Geeta Phogat’s win at the 2010 Commonwealth games in our own national capital has since increased the participation of sportswomen in Haryana, a state plagued by an appalling number of sex selective abortions. This one feat initiated a chain reaction of heightened inclination of young girls towards sports bringing in more elements (in the form of gold, silver, and bronze) to be donned by Haryana proudly, snowballing the state’s campaign ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao‘ (save girl child, educate girl child) to be added with ‘Beti Khilao‘ (encourage sports as a career for girl child).

Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Mary Kom, Sakshi Malik, Suman Bala, Babita Kumari, Vinesh Phogat, P.V. Sindhu are well-known sports personalities who achieved unprecedented feats with their unmoving conviction. When swinging a bat, entering a ring, putting on a glove was merely a game for a man; it transcended boundaries set by time and age for a woman. Success in sports exhibited physical and mental strength transforming the image of a woman from feeble to able.

Source: The Washington Post

Hurdles That Remain To Be Crossed

While the image of the ceremony of bestowing a winner with a medal/trophy might be one that runs through news and our minds, what remains in the shade are the countless tribulations that one went through. One might be a champion, the honour of her country, but just before she wins, she is only showered with constant ridicule and harsh judgment.

Girls who choose sports are repeatedly met with irrational concerns over their impending transformation into a ‘man-like’ body, infertility stemming from weight training, possible introduction to illegal steroids, training with the opposite sex, and the wretched conclusion of them being undesirable for marriage.

All of this hogwash is engrained in people’s minds, and they still remain blind to all the glory acquired by women that came before. Many parents will encourage their daughters to pursue academics but will throw a hissy fit if they show interest in sports because that might be unsafe.

In accordance with history, there have been female warriors who saved a page for themselves in the book of braves, Rani Hazrat Mahal, Rani Laxmibai, Razia Sultana, and countless more. They had to fight the enemy within their own guarded lines, the enemy of oppression and patriarchy, before facing the real one. Even in a different era today, the enemy remains the same.

Luckily, there is a very straightforward solution; for the enemy to become an ally and, in a rather specific term, educate the sons to exercise gender equality and not aggravate the bias. If we have learned anything from movies like Dangal and Mary Kom is that we, as part of a social construct, make it umpteen times harder for a sportswoman to reach the summit of their own personal goals, they have to brave through a slush of cold-hearted disapproval of sexist individuals who drag them behind.

Even though the change in sex ratio in North Western states of our country is no way near balance, we owe it to these women in sports to help bring up that number. They have truly rechristened a new meaning to the female body as not only a reproductive factory but a storehouse of strength that can fight, swim, jump, race, and wrestle its way out of the box of sexism only if the instructions are read right.

On your mark, get set, go on, take down patriarchy like the boss you are!

Written by: Noor

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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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