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I Didn’t Celebrate Women’s Day This Year. This Is Why

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Happy International Women’s Day everyone! So how was it? What did you do this year?

I bet it was something good, right? Did you get your mother some flowers? Or a basket of muffins for your girlfriend? Maybe you shared a quote from a feminist icon. Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Amal Clooney, Kamala Harris, Lily Singh, Rupi Kaur, Amanda Gormon, Angelina Jolie- who did you pick this time for your #IWD social media post?

I spent the week leading up to Women’s Day sitting outside a bathroom, holding a fresh towel and a nightgown, listening to my mother throw up inside. She can experience a range of symptoms within a day of coming down with a stomach bug: from asthma, nausea and dizziness, to vomiting, diarrhoea and fatigue. She has GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease), a complication that came about as a result of heavy medication for her autoimmune disease.

My mother suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis, a disease that causes joint pain, swelling, stiffening and even deformity. If not taken care of, it can lead to permanent damage.

We found out about it when she was in her early 40s, nearly a decade ago. I remember I was 18 or 19 at the point and the news landed like a hammer blow. We’d known something was wrong; she’d had dry eyes, severe Rhinitis and dental problems since her early 20s. The ophthalmologist would prescribe eye-drops and ask her to stay away from smokers, the ENT specialist would prescribe inhalers and the dentist would admonish her for poor dental hygiene. What every doctor had in common, apart from a lack of bedside manner, was total apathy towards her worsening condition. Not a single doctor suggested that she should get some tests done, maybe it wasn’t her fault, maybe she was doing her best.

Today, she has floaters in her eyes with one eye slightly smaller than the other, only nine teeth left and her throat can get so dry that she can’t even speak. The treatment is mainly steroids, painkillers, a strict diet, rest and physiotherapy. We can barely keep up with it.

For the last ten days, I’ve been talking to our gastroenterologist, buying antacids, antiemetics and antibiotics from our pharmacist, ordering tender coconut from our vegetable vendor, informing the neighbours, saving ambulance numbers, finding local hospitals, contacting the nearest general physicians and coming up with an emergency health plan, all in the middle of a global pandemic.

And yet, there is a sense of gratitude. My mother is nice, so I get along with her. I have money that I can spend on her medical care. Money sent by my father who works hard to pay the bills. I have a beautiful home where I can cook, clean and relax while generally keeping an eye on her and not letting her do anything stupid, like picking up a big bag of groceries and accidentally breaking her wrist or trying to hold the dog when the vet comes over and falling down.

I can get everything home-delivered, even if it means standing at the front door for half an hour waiting for the delivery man, wearing a mask, sanitising my hands before collecting the package, disinfecting the package after receiving it, washing my hands until my fingertips are pruney and then napping on the couch because opening the package is going to be another workout with a lot of locking wire, bubble wrap and cardboard. Yes, I’m grateful.

When I massage my mother’s gnarly but delicate hands with lotion to relieve her pain, I think about what I went through when I found out my mother was sick. For 10 years I struggled with depression and chronic illness, unable to get up from bed in the morning, going in and out of hospitals, clinics and therapists’ offices, staying up all night watching movies on my laptop, sleeping late into the afternoon, eating junk to try and deal with my grief, getting admission into different colleges and then dropping out because I simply couldn’t see the point of going on anymore.

2019 was a wake-up call. I had finally graduated with a double degree from college after 8 years and even managed to complete a post-graduate diploma. I even got into a master’s programme in gender studies. My father had to be away all the time for work and I would go months without seeing him. I had no friends, no boyfriends, no mentors. There was no one I could call if something happened to my mother. The World Health Organisation had just declared a pandemic and according to medical experts, my mother’s illness put her right there in the high-risk category. If she got COVID, she would die, there was no doubt about that.

Something just clicked then. It was like a voice inside my head said enough. You’ve had your time. Get up. Get up. Get up.

I started a consultancy business to try and support myself. I reached out to friends. I connected with peers. I created a network. I started learning how to take care of myself because I knew, that as the primary caregiver of an immunocompromised parent without any adult supervision, I would have to grow up.

I began to manage my health first which had been destroyed by stress, trauma and to a degree, shock, and I realised the key to it was to love myself more deeply so I could love my mother better. Because I’ll be honest with you, I don’t love her every day. I get mad that she’s ill and I just want her to be OK. I feel horrible saying this out loud but I don’t want to live with the fear of sickness, old age and death. I don’t want to a good, responsible, caring human being anymore. In fact, I’m eagerly waiting for the chance to start acting like an asshole. Everyone else my age does it, so why can’t I?

There is a Japanese art called Kintsugi in which broken pots, jars and vases are repaired with the help of lacquer and gold. So, you take the broken pieces and instead of throwing them away, you put them back together.

It’s exactly what I do with myself every day. I’ve come out of depression now; I eat right, sleep enough, meditate, see my therapist, read, feed the dog, talk to clients and most of all, I pray.

See, this is probably something I should have mentioned in the beginning. When my grandmother found out that my mother was getting sick, she abandoned us. Nobody from my family ever got in touch, asked how my mother was doing, or offered to take care of her. It was like she was dead. I have never seen such cruelty in my life. I’m thinking about that as I write this. I’m thinking of my family and how they’re no longer family.

I’ve been a women’s rights activist for 8 years now, and what I’ve figured out is, feminism goes beyond a random shout out to Chrissy Teigen on Twitter. It means, sometimes, you’re broken by the very people you love and you have to let yourself fall apart so you can build yourself up again.

So, I’m not celebrating International Women’s Day this year. I’m just learning to love myself as a woman and support all the wonderful women in my life.

Can you say the same?

You must be to comment.
  1. Tanmay Singh

    Thank you very much for writing this Abha! Your strength, determination and courage in continuing to fight has filled me with deep respect, (albiet not for the first time), for humanity at its finest. Cheers.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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