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What Does March 12 Mean For USA, Japan, Australia, And India?

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Friday, March 12, 2021, marked an important day in the geopolitics of Asia with the leaders of the countries in the ‘QUAD’ meeting for the first time albeit virtually. This meeting ended with the first-ever joint statement, titled ‘The Spirit of the Quad’. Interestingly, the leaders penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, a skimmed version of the joint statement. The statement also said that the leaders will meet in person ‘before the end of 2021’.

But What Is Quad? Why Is It In The News? Let’s Find Out!

Quad or QSD stands for Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. It is an inter-governmental security forum between the USA, Japan, Australia, and India.

The idea of establishing a joint forum came up in 2004 in the wake of the major Tsunami that hit South and Southeast Asia badly. Initially, an ad hoc Tsunami core group was established to provide assistance and co-operate in the relief measures.

In 2007, the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe initiated talks with then Australian Prime Minister John Howard, former US Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to establish a joint forum to co-operate and tackle the issues like growing Chinese influence in the region. The inaugural meet was held in Manila in May 2007. It was accompanied by a joint naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal in September 2007.

In 2008, former PM Manmohan Singh travelled to China and had several meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao. He distanced India from any such mechanism to ‘contain China effort’. The Quad went into what can be called hibernation.

In 2017, with the rise of Chinese hostility especially in the Indo-Pacific region or what China calls ‘South China sea’, an effort was made by Shinzo Abe to revive the forum. Following that, in 2018, Navy chiefs of the four countries met in New Delhi at the Raisina Dialogue. This marked the era of the reboot of the forum. Since then, three ministerial meetings have been concluded, in New York (September 2018), Tokyo (October 2020), and Virtually (February 2021). Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar represented India in all three meetings.

The first-ever summit meeting took place on March 12, 2021, virtually. The idea of the meet was initiated by the new POTUS Joe Biden. That the meeting has taken place in the first fifty days of his presidency, itself indicates the authority that the forum now carries in the American foreign policy. The meet intriguingly was conducted just before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s four-day visit to South Korea and Japan. Also, Antony Blinken along with his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet their Chinese counterparts Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska later this week.

The Statement And The Op-Ed

The leaders released a joint statement for the first time in the history of the forum, which needs to be paid more attention to.

The first reason for that is the absence of the word: ‘China’. The statement as well as the op-ed eludes calling out China directly. The document doesn’t mention China at all, not even once. Instead, more subtle hints have been dropped. Such as, in the Indo-Pacific region the leaders want ‘peaceful resolution of disputes and that all countries can make their own political choices, free from coercion. In recent years, that vision has increasingly been tested.’ The tussle between Japan and China related to the Senkaku Islands in recent years is no news. Neither is the coercion by China towards smaller countries like Indonesia.

The second reason is the focus on Climate Change and to ‘strengthen the Paris Agreement’. Former POTUS Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement pointing fingers at the Asian countries especially China and India for carbon emissions. The return of the US is a positive step to fight the global menace of climate change.

The third reason, perhaps the most important one for India right now, is that the leaders pledged to ‘expand and accelerate production in India of safe, accessible and effective vaccines’. This will be financed by the USA and Japan, and Australia will provide logistical support. This provides India with a great opportunity to further expand its already large footprint in the production of global pharmaceutical products. A Quad Vaccine Experts Working Group has been proposed to be set up to help the Indo-Pacific and African region in getting vaccinated at the earliest.

The relatively soft statement also counters the claims that Quad is the ‘Asian NATO’.

Understandably, the meet has caused some uneasiness in the Chinese government. It released a sharp statement just after the summit calling India ‘a negative asset of BRICS and SCO’. More recently, China released a harsher statement saying that small cliques will destroy global order. This undoubtedly shows its apprehensions towards the Quad and the trips of American diplomats to Asia. American Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will visit India from March 19 to March 21, 2021.

With the meet, the forum has given India, an opportunity to establish itself as a global leader in the post-COVID vaccination efforts and to boost its diplomatic relations with the four ‘like-minded’ countries. Although whether the vision materializes or not, remains to be seen.

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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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