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How Prepared Are We REALLY To Smash Patriarchy, Daily?

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That time of the year is here when the internet is flooded with advertisements ahead of ‘Women’s day’. From clothing line to bath essentials, each and every brand is affixed on the idea of selling their best products with a ‘responsible’ social message. Despite changes, we have a long way to go to get rid of the patriarchal menace. This is a long battle and there have to be many systemic fixes to be able to build an egalitarian society. And how long will it take is a difficult question to answer!

A couple of years earlier, I had an adventure of dragging my landlord to the Sarojini Nagar Police Station in Delhi. I was still a student then, and dealing with the ordeals of everyday patriarchal nonsense did take a toll on my mental well being. It was a harassing experience as I got innumerable lecherous stares from the owner of the apartment I was living in, day in and day out. It was worse for my flatmate who hailed from Nagaland. A few friends, who would come over for tea to our flat, would caution us about ‘our whammies’.

My flatmate has diverse tribal roots, is a Christian, and is a woman. I am an Assamese, a Muslim, and a woman. This consequently meant people had issues with our food habits and dietary practices.

Mainstream societies also have issues digesting the fact that women who come from minority communities or tribal belts can excel in professions that have primarily been dominated by them.

As days passed by, I realised diversity and intersectionality are often perceived as a threat to the majoritarian groups who often harbour deep-seated patriarchal notions. In the case of classic patriarchy, as witnessed in South Asia, family systems are based around rigid value systems that automatically teaches women to enter into a ‘patriarchal bargain’. As the name suggests, it is a way in which women adjust and manipulate an existing system, for their personal gains and benefits.

So, in a way, it becomes a decision taken by women where they accept gender rules, norms and roles which are not advantageous to and are rather disadvantageous to, other women. As the landlord misbehaved with us, so did his wife. With every passing day, I only realised that the owner used his spouse to vomit his patriarchal rants! As earning from the apartment was his only source of income and with his other sources of incomes crashing, his frustration kept growing.

Mainstream societies also have issues digesting the fact that women who come from minority communities or tribal belts can excel in professions that have primarily been dominated by them. In their heads, these communities are best suited to work as air hostesses, waitresses, masseuses or to work in job roles that accentuate the gig economy. There is a constant endeavour to dehumanise such professions as there has been a normalisation of the highest order of racism and casteism. Our not so mainstream identities were somehow always brought to the limelight because we, being master’s students or having aims of taking up higher studies, did not fit their stereotypes.

I was 25-years-old then and seeing me roam around independently, I was always subject to scrutiny. The same is hardly faced by men of our age and it gets worse when such men do not acknowledge their male privilege. I had to listen to things like ‘acchi ghar ki ladkiyaan ghar main jaldi ghusti hain’ (girls from ‘good homes’ reach home quickly/don’t stay out too late). which I had to counter almost on a daily basis.

It got worse towards the end when I planned to shift out of that property. The stories around landlords not refunding security deposits is a very common one. I started preparing myself mentally that I would receive further intimidation and harassment. When I had to fight it out with my landlord and the property dealer, I had to literally fight out the toxic masculinity that leaves one aghast and stranded with a possible threat to life in the middle of nowhere. It took one dialogue from this landlord that compelled me to take this case with the police. He said, “Tum jaisi ladkiyon ki aukaat Rs 4,000-5,000 main rehne ki hain”. (Girls like you only deserve to stay in a place worth Rs 4,000-5,000.)

It took me close to 20 days to finally get my money back from the landlord. Even after filing an FIR, he was least bothered to establish a contact and would openly defy the police. It was only during this time that I learnt that police stations under the Delhi Police have special ‘northeast cells’ to deal with cases around racist attacks. On the D-day, there was yet again a string of rants that were patriarchal in nature. Example: One of the police constables was trying to pacify me by saying, “Humare India main justice system accha hain. Aap kyon chinta kar rahe ho? Yeh Pakistan thode na hain?’” (In India, the justice system is good. Why are you worried? This isn’t Pakistan.)

Representational image.

Everything somehow boils down to India vs. Pakistan, yet there was no attempt to recognise the fact that the plight of women has only been deteriorating day-by-day with multiple challenges at hand! Even as ties between countries worsen, it needs to be reiterated that alpha males are busy carrying out battles of civilisation while formulating a few policies of women empowerment here and there. Women’s Day is also a time I am particularly interested in tracking down various events of Aurat March that happens across different cities of Pakistan. And every year, some awful men leave no stone unturned to make headlines that are extremely disrespectful towards women. Hence, patriarchy is a South Asian disease!

The Aishwarya Rai-starrer Provoked gave an insight into violence and domestic abuse that so many women have to undergo in a patriarchal setting throughout South Asia and this vicious cycle of abuse continues even if families live abroad. The cultural shock in a foreign country makes things worse for South Asian women as they are always brought under the radar when it comes to their needs and choices pertaining to food, who they befriend, the clothes women want and don’t want to wear, the money they spend, their employment and educational needs, etc. In other words, very few women are given the choice to do whatever they want in their lives and if they are found not adhering to societal standards they are subjected to physical, mental and emotional harassment.

Coming to my issue of harassment, I was adamant about not getting bogged down by intimidation. And after more than two hours of not-so-peaceful dialogue, I was able to get my money back! This incident gave me a lot of confidence to be able to battle it out with misogynists who don’t think twice before making casual sexist remarks daily!

The next question that lies ahead of me: how well am I prepared to face a new set of challenges that are patriarchal but in a different environment?

Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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