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Where Does Education Stand Post-Elections In West Bengal?

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

As Bengal emerges from its battle for the mighty throne, what ironically remains suppressed amidst the campaigns of these perennially nonchalant leaders are their election manifestos for the 2021 state assembly. Subsequently, an even less discussed aspect of these manifestos is the education policies, especially for women.

government school

Notwithstanding the heightened episodic importance of women as components of vote bank politics, there is often a familiar reluctance for the ‘talk’ about women’s education policy in the middle of the election enigma.

Hence taking a minute to dabble into the state of women’s education under the current government, Mamta Banerjee, who aimed to ‘detoxify’ Bengal’s education system, has shown consistent visible improvement in the same.

The CM deserves her fair share of appreciation when it comes to boosting the girl child’s education with the implementation of the 2013 flagship scheme of Kanyashree Prakalpa, thus confirming the resultant spike in the female ratio in higher educational institutions from 42% to 47.3%, as of 2020.

This heavy cash-incentive scheme has helped women escape systematic patriarchy by completing the primary education alongside being identified as an adult, qualified for independent decision-making, thus expanding on the seed capital and finishing secondary as well as tertiary levels of education. Having fared high on initiatives of women empowerment during their entire reign, there are multiplying expectations too this time, and on a surficial level, TMC doesn’t disappoint in the realm of female education.

TMC’s Ideals

The Wire brands Banerjee’s campaign to be “aggressive” with women at the core of them all, thus capitalizing on this gendered paradigm of the vote bank. They promise to continue their zealous implementation of the Kanyashree Prakalpa – only bigger and better this time, by expanding the schemes to education based on age-appropriate Social and Behaviour Change Communication activities such that it mitigates the women’s inhibited ability to make life choices, inadequate access to health care services and battle gender discrimination. Revamped as Kanyashree Plus, it seeks to equip the female students with livelihood opportunities for their simultaneous economic empowerment.

Alongside, the TMC has also devised a revolutionary policy of a Student’s Credit Card with an expenditure limit of 10 lakhs and a return interest of only 4%, thus wooing its women voters with pledges that seems to assure both their intellectual and functional autonomy however it is to be seen if they grow insipid in their practicality over time.

BJP’s Promises

Confronted with a reckoning competition from the rival saffron party, a voter whose political innocence is untouched by biases is likely to find herself confused over what appears to be quite an attractive set of education policies for women. With the unabashed agenda of consolidating Bengal into his homogenizing rule, Modi well conceals his electoral intentions through a poetic discourse of the manifesto – Sonar Bangla Prakalpa 2021.

Under the ‘Ebar Mohila Ebar BJP’ banner, they promise to deliver free education to women from ‘KG to PG’, with a corpus of 500 crores to financially assist meritorious females pursuing higher education in private institutions and scholarships for all levels of education and across the SC/ST/OBCs. Alongside schemes like Balika Alo Yojana and Shohoj Path Programme are curated to aid women students in this pandemic.

Thus, in the opinion of this article, the prosperity of education policies for women can be assessed by realizing the degree of enabler a state decides to be through both monetary facilitation and institutional security instead of hanging onto one of the two threads like BJP and TMC respectively.

Nevertheless, one could say that while BJP has theoretically managed to promise a holistic approach for all the girls of Bengal, TMC appears risking stakes only for those qualifying as a minority, hence being dismissed as a mere tactic of appeasement. As TMC has a supporting history of credible groundwork instead of only pompous speeches of BJP, one is still hopeful of some actual actions if the former is re-elected to power.

Thus, in attempts of rejuvenating hope from the tired phrase of ‘light shining at the end of the tunnel’, well case-specific ballot machines, for now, one can only wait and watch how the incoming government manipulates their commitments. Because a mere prediction of execution of politics would only be too naïve an expectation, perhaps a disappointment in the realm of Indian polity!

However, having discarded the electoral cynicism, the article would still appreciate these competitors to have at least formulated policies, purposive of promoting women education in the state as opposed to the precarious alliance of the CPI(M), Congress, and ISF or AIMIM, who doesn’t even spare a few lines in concern of women.

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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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