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“Feminism Is The Way Out From The Toxic Stereotype Of A Man”

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India sees a lot of rape cases and cases of sexual violence. Studies show how women fear public spaces scared of physical assault or intimidation by men. Surveys say how a considerable number of women carry pepper spray when going out, do not over drink in public places, make sure they meet men in public spaces on their first date, travels with bags tied in front, never gets on a lift with a single man or group of men in it.

Home is not safe either. The rate of domestic violence is alarming in our society. Men are the ones mostly renting sexuality degrading pornography, writing and singing sexist music or basically making any kind of content that is misogynistic.

Representational image.

Yet violence against women is a women’s issue. Each time you speak about this to a man, he will instantly to his defence let you know, “But I’ve never done it.” There is a general disinterest or lack of self interest for a man to join in any conversation that concerns women. Hence, the general lack of participation and sometimes their deep apathy in the topic of feminism.

Popular culture teaches men to be scared of feminism. Feminism is portrayed as something that takes away men’s rights.

The concept of patriarchy is not of much botheration for men as it doesn’t seem to affect them negatively nor do they seem to have any role to play there. But this is where we as a society have failed, to call these women’s issue as if it’s a topic of personal hygiene that men have nothing to do with and allowing them to dissociate from the conversation.

It is completely a men’s issue and they have to concern themselves with it to reach a place of gender justice. We need to include men in discussions of patriarchy equally. It is high time they questioned the system for what it leads them to be.

How Is A Man In A Patriarchal World?

The ideal man is the one who is always in control. He is strong and stoic with no space to express his emotions or a sense of vulnerability. He is supposed to win at any cost- a perpetual strong sense of conquest. And most certainly be someone who’s violent and aggressive.

Compassion is considered a trait of femininity, another word for weakness. There is little acceptability of a man who is any different. He is mocked by his male peers, brings shame to his family and even not respected by his girlfriend or wife.

Calling him ‘gay’ or ‘girly’ and instantly putting a homosexual and a woman deep down in the social hierarchy is common and so telling. We often forget how patriarchy doesn’t spare men along with women even though the former are the ones mostly gaining through this system. An unbelievable pressure on men to live up to the myth of toxic masculinity leads to unthinkable mental health and physical health issues in them.

The ideal man is strong and stoic with no space to express his emotions or a sense of vulnerability. Representational image.

I personally know men who believe inflicting violence is a showcase of masculinity.

On the other hand, through my profession as a lawyer, I’ve also met men who do feel highly uncomfortable at misogynistic jokes but still participate compulsively with the fear of exclusion.

One of them had once told me how I’d be shocked to see his difference in behaviour between when he’s with his male friends and when with his girlfriend. I felt the turmoil in his heart. I have been in a personal relationship with a certain man where I noticed how he’d struggle hard to put up a ‘macho’ image where he cannot be vulnerable, honest, compassionate and accept defeat no matter how trivial it is.

But when with me or even his mother, he’d share his deepest insecurities and weaknesses and cry his heart out. But not always do these men, bearing this immense pressure of being accepted, have people in life to share their real selves with. Studies conducted over the world say how men are 3 times more likely to die by suicide.

A UK study says how most men do not have a male friend to share things with, hence live with loneliness. Depression and anxiety are extremely common consequences of having to bottle up emotions. Becoming violent is also a result of this.

Coming back to violence on women, the very perpetuation of these toxic traits in the name of ideal manhood puts men under this immense pressure, knowingly or unknowingly, of living up to them, hence systematically justifying their deeds. Yet mostly there is no in-depth discussion behind this culture that defines manhood and how it is linked to gender violence on women.

It is time we spoke about the male causes of this violence, sexism and discrimination rather than lingering on the consequences on the lives of the woman. To bring down the rates of gender violence on women, there has to be a cultural revolution that challenges the sexist social norms in the male culture. And men, the ones responsible for this, need to participate. It cannot be called a woman’s issue anymore because men get affected by living in this unhealthy system too.

Representational image.

Feminism: A Blessing For Men

Feminism opens up the question of hierarchy that exists in the world.

Not just men’s dominance over women but any form of hierarchy (White Supremacy, the dominance of First World countries, etc).

It teaches you to analyse your behaviour and act. Feminism challenges most of how a man is socialized. Feminism is the way out from the toxic stereotype of a man. There are men who feel a lack of belongingness in their male community, who do not fit into the notions of manhood and are hence excluded, who are ridiculed as ‘effeminate’ by peers for being gentle and sweet and in turn rejected from female attention too, who face violence from their male counterparts for being weak and also for the apparently strong and upright man who wants to be able to cry and be normal. And so, so, so much more.

A lot of times men live their whole lives, in darkness, with no explanation and understanding of why they feel and act how they do. The study of feminism and having more and more feminist men is so important because it answers these questions for them.

Feminism is not at the cost of men’s rights but a blessing instead. It desires humanity, compassion and inclusiveness. It is for men’s self-interest that the study of feminism is so important. It would take men on the path of mindful masculinity leading to a richer, deeper, more meaningful way to live with themselves.

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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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