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One Doesn’t Stand Up To Patriarchy By Newspaper Headline-Worthy Acts ONLY

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“But I’ve never stood up to patriarchy!”

This was the first thought in my head when I sat down to write an article on how I stood up to patriarchy. Striving for some inspiration, I asked my small community of Instagram followers to share their experience with thwarting patriarchy, and to my surprise, in more than 24 hours, not a single person responded.

Representational image.

The thing is, we’re surrounded by stories and anecdotes of men, women and children who’ve smashed the patriarchy in colossal ways. We’ve all read about young girls who’ve fought with entire villages to have the right to study, women who’ve left abusive households with their children and survived on their own, CEOs of huge corporations who’ve overcome numerous obstacles to be where they are today.

Compared to them, to an average woman, privileged to be born in an urban setting, it seems that she’s never really even felt the need to stand up to patriarchy. After all, most of us didn’t have to fight to get an education or escape horrible marriages. Does it mean that we, as those women, have failed to help further the cause of women empowerment?

I disagree.

One doesn’t stand up to patriarchy by newspaper headline-worthy acts only. If you’ve ever refused to laugh at a “women are such bad drivers, lol!”, you’ve stood up to patriarchy. If you’ve ever called out “that’s sexist!” to someone saying “Hey, you throw like a girl,” you’ve stood up to patriarchy.

If you’ve ever overcome that voice in your head that tells you how a pretty girl, dressed up in pink and sparkles, if probably dumb and told yourself that she is as smart, intelligent and unique as the next because her beauty can very well coexist with brains, congratulations, my friend, you’ve stood up to the patriarchy!

The night before my first day of 9th Grade, my father wouldn’t let me sleep because “you can’t wear your school uniform’s skirt with those hairy legs, shave them.”

Cut to almost a decade later, when my younger brother insisted on shaving his moustache and trimming his leg hair, my father asked him not to because “Those hair are natural” “as opposed to my leg hair that are completely artificial, aren’t they?” I remarked. He didn’t object to my brother removing his hair afterwards.

Belonging to a household of right-wing fundamentalists, I’ve heard my grandmother instruct my mother to clean up my father’s messes because it’s the ladies’ job and upon my protest, told me flatly that whether or not I like it, we live in a male-centric society.

Let Me Share Two Incidents That Speak To The Extent Of Feminism’s Achievement

First, our cook decided to take a day off and my mother felt a little under the weather. My father assumed charge of the kitchen. True, he didn’t know where we kept the atta (flour); true his rotis were little more on the burnt side, but he cooked the entire meal, in spite of my grandmother feverishly insisting he leave the kitchen at once. Over the years, I’ve seen him get more and more involved with such tasks, not shying away from washing utensils and sweeping and mopping as and when required.

Second, my proudest and biggest stance against the patriarchy is helping raise a gentle, compassionate and feminist younger brother, who on his 11th birthday, after everyone had left, sat playing with his cousin, then about 8 years old. As they stacked blocks and arranged action figures into a nice little narrative, I heard him say in the most pedagogic way, “Do you ever feel you’re less than a boy? Never ever feel you’re less than a boy. Girls are equal, if not better than boys.”

The little girl, like a devout student, promptly replied, “Yes bhaiya, I will never see myself as less than a boy”. And just like that, they went back to playing, unaware of the sheer magnitude of their small conversation.

It’s also the women we might see as orthodox today. My grandmother, who finds herself to be quite old fashioned, not only is postgraduate but has worked her entire life in spite of her father being horrified with the idea of a woman of a respectable family working.

Our lives are littered with small instances where we’ve all stood up the chauvinism. Just because they may not meet the magnitude of what we see glorified around us, doesn’t mean they are any less valuable or powerful.

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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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