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Why Is Authoritarianism On The Rise Worldwide?

Authoritarianism is a form of government characterised by strong central powers and limited political freedoms. An authoritarian leadership style is exemplified when a leader dictates policies and procedures and goals to be achieved and directs and controls all activities without any meaningful participation by his subordinates. Such a leader has a vision in mind and must effectively motivate the group to finish the task.

There is a clear divide between the leader and his followers. The leader constructs a gap between himself and his followers with the intention of stressing role distinction. This type of leadership dates back to the earliest tribes and empires but has seen a comeback in recent times. 

On the other hand, democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. This is a type of government in which people have the authority to choose their legislature.

Authoritarianism is rising in several countries.

A majority of countries are now democracies. The end of World War I depicted the start of the democratic form of government. The citizens vote for officials who represent the citizens’ ideas. Thus people are given a justified opportunity and a chance of participation where they know that their opinions are a subject matter of concern.

However, the world’s trust in democracy is in danger. Authoritarianism is rising in several countries. It seems like the wave of authoritarianism is hitting countries yet again. Authoritarianism is on the march not only in relatively poor countries but also in well-off countries. One of them is the U.S., a country that defended and promoted liberal democracy throughout the 20th century.

How are we to understand the resurgence of authoritarianism? 

Erica Frantz of Michigan State University sheds light on the ways of contemporary authoritarians in her short book Authoritarianism: What Everyone Should Know. It illuminates two points. 

  1. Nowadays, the most common way of emerging authoritarian regimes is to eat away the democracy from within. 
  2. These new regimes often take what the author calls “the most dangerous form of dictatorship”.

As mentioned earlier, in a democracy, the state must allow the flow of expression, opinions, free media and unbiased election law. Today, elections confer legitimacy. For this reason, many authoritarians offer pseudo-democracy but not the reality. Pseudo-democracy refers to a less genuine form of democracy where even though elections are held, the citizens are cut off from the knowledge of the activities of those who exercise real power.

Thus, elections have become a form of theatre. Historically, the number of regimes peaked in the 1980s and then fell sharply, reaching a trough in the middle of the last decade. Since then, democracy has been in slow retreat.

The global march of authoritarianism was off to a vigorous start. In Brazil, a new president with well documented far-right leanings immediately mobilised 300 members of the National Police Force to quell violence in a north-eastern state, even as he vowed to increase the powers of security forces and expand citizens’ gun rights. 

To the North, in Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales booted out a United Nations Anti-corruption Commission that had been investigating some of his officials and others close to him. In the United States, President Donald Trump fanned fears over immigration and considered declaring a “national emergency” to construct a wall on the southern border.

Myanmar Protest
Protest against Myanmar military dictatorship.

If 2018 and the impending milestones of 2019 are any indications, that’s only the beginning. Across the globe, entrenched authoritarians (like China) tightened their grip. Relatively new authoritarians extended their crackdowns, for example, Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines. 

At present, the business of authoritarianism is booming. According to the Human Rights Foundation’s research, the citizens of 94 countries suffer under non-democratic regimes, meaning that 3.97 billion people are currently controlled by tyrants, absolute monarchs, military juntas or competitive authoritarians. That’s 53% of the world’s population. Statistically, then, authoritarianism is one of the largest, if not the largest, challenges facing humanity. 

If injustice and oppression aren’t bad enough, authoritarian governments bear an enormous social cost. Dictator-led countries have higher mental illness rates, lower levels of health and life expectancy and higher susceptibility to famine. The suppression of free expression and creativity has harmful effects on innovation and economic growth. Moreover, free nations do not go to war, whereas dictators are always at war. 

The worse democracies perform, the less attractive that model of governance becomes to their citizens and it is easier for the authoritarians to emerge. As it becomes more obvious that the democracies were poorly equipped to contend with authoritarianism’s resurgence, the leading autocracies were experimenting with more frightening ways of assuming domestic political control. 

The confluence of authoritarianism gains and a setback of democracy suggests that modern authoritarianism is a permanent and increasing threat to liberal democracies. Authoritarian states are likely to intensify efforts to influence the political choices and government policies of the democracies. 

Authoritarian leaders can count on the increasingly vocal group of admirers in democratic states. The phenomena can be expected to double down on its drive to neuter civil society as an incubator of reformist ideas. 

The rewriting of history will become more widespread and greatly complicate societal efforts to confront both past and political abuses. Authoritarian forces are more likely to gain supremacy in countries where the parties that represent liberal democracy not only lose elections but experience a full-blown political collapse.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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