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Covid-19 Lockdown: Survival of the Most Vulnerable Members of the Society

Every day since the past one year, we sit down in front of our televisions, scroll through social media and surf on the web only to come across various aspects of how the Covid-19 pandemic has turned our worlds upside down. We have suffered a tragic mishap, both economically and socially. At a time like this, I almost came to the conclusion that death doesn’t discriminate but then I saw the news revolving around the extreme conditions faced by migrant workers, their children, women in prostitution and other such socially excluded communities. So now when I think about it, there’s just one question that pops up in my mind: What can I do to help?

24th March 2020 was the day when our honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown in the wake of the Corona Virus outbreak in our country. This lockdown was then extended thrice up until 31st May, after which the lockdown restrictions were uplifted in a phased manner. The lockdown was aimed at reducing the spread and safeguarding the citizen’s health. Nonetheless, it led to a chain of negative impacts. As a result of the lockdown, several daily wage workers had to migrate back to their villages since they lost their livelihoods and couldn’t even afford the basic necessities. These people cycled and even walked for thousands of kilometers in order to reach their villages where they would at least have a shelter, food and water to survive. The government did announce strategies to help these people, but like any other initiative aimed at helping the poor, it didn’t reach all of them. Everyday we heard of such heartbreaking events where these people lost their lives on the way back home due to the scorching heat, thirst and hunger. Adding to the misery, imagine being a woman who is forced to walk for days to reach home in order to ensure the survival of her child and herself, who then starts menstruating on the way. As someone who cannot afford food or water, you definitely would not have access to sanitary pads. No woman should ever have to go through this state of despondence and dreadfulness. I remember this one instance from around this time last year where my friend told me about how she went out one day with her dad to buy some groceries and while they were back on their way home, they came across this woman in ragged clothes, skinny, malnourished and carrying her child in her arms. When her dad asked her if she was alright and offered her some money, she refused to take it and asked for food instead. She said that since all shops in the neighborhood were closed and she didn’t have any money, she hasn’t had any food to feed herself or her kid in the past many days. This woman was one of the many vulnerable women out there who were in a wretched state, unable to earn a means of survival for themselves or their children.

The only community I can think of as more vulnerable than these women are the women from red light areas. Prostituted women, apart from being destitute, also suffer from society’s stigma. As a result, the lockdown was even more harsh to these women. These women mostly do not have any documents which makes them ineligible for the government provided food rationing and housing, they have no “official employer” looking after them and most importantly, they are at high risk of infection due to the nature of their jobs. Oppressed by the prevailing conditions, they are trapped in tiny rooms with their children with no food, water, medicines or even hygiene products.

While several organisations were working towards providing oxygen and beds to the needy, Apne Aap Women Worldwide through its 1 Million Meals initiative reached the women and children from the most vulnerable and excluded communities of the society and provided them with food kits, essential medicines, sanitary pads along with vaccination and hospital support. The initiative began on 27th March, 2020 and since then has served weekly ration, hygiene packs of mask, soap, basic medicines and sanitary pads to adult women and their children in the red-light areas of Bihar, Kolkata and Delhi in order to ensure basic survival.

I believe that this is the time to make sure that the word ‘Fraternity’ is not merely a fancy keyword in our preamble. Instead, it instills in us a feeling of togetherness that makes us come forward to help the vulnerable people of our community, without the ifs and buts of who they are, what they do or where they come from.

Stand by the last girl and join the efforts of 1 Million Meals.

 

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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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