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Has Social Media Blurred The Thin Line Between Fantasy And Ground Reality?

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With the age of hashtags dawning upon us, generation Z has been born in an age of technology where connecting with friends, being updated on current happenings especially paparazzi gossips, weddings, and holiday destinations have become an inseparable part of our daily routines. Before getting out of our beds, we open our eyes every morning going through WhatsApp chats and aimlessly scrolling through Instagram feeds, and rarely go to sleep at night without straining our eyes in front of the ‘dim lit’ screens.

Social media has created a parallel world where everything happening in real or on reel seems to be affecting us both physically and emotionally. For some of us, it’s a place to stay cool and sassy while for others it’s a circus full of drama and fakeness. But whatsoever it may be, we would all at least agree that it’s a happy place to be in, and through these tough times, it has been our one and only constant company!

Our lives have been so deeply entrenched in this virtual world that it has now become equivalent to our daily businesses and to ‘take a break’ from it we are now resorting to yoga, meditation, and hiking. (But be careful it is necessary to first post #detox or #goingoffline or #wandererlife otherwise it would be considered that either you are dead or have been kidnapped. Being online now and then is a routine drill).

By now we all know the pros and cons of social media. We are aware of how much of it to use, how to use and when to restrict it. We are also made aware of issues like cyberbullying, cyber attacks, and phishing by the administration. So what difference will this article make in which we will be reiterating about social media?

It Acts As A Memoir In Itself!

Amidst a pandemic, technology and social platforms have come to peoples’ rescue. Where the government machinery failed in catching up too little, too late, India’s youth came forward harnessing the power of social media to enable their fellow countrymen to access critical healthcare equipment and sail through these difficult times.

Who knew that sharing posts, uploading videos or stories could act as a first-hand resource group in fighting the virus. In these pressing moments when we cannot see each other or personally take care, we have extended our help virtually. Volunteers across the country have come together and have been working round the clock to post and update accurate information.

A Strong Medium For Ground  Reporting

With the prevalence of social platforms in our lives, sting operations and investigative journalism have got new avenues of reporting. Earlier certain events could be easily muffled by governments and forcefully removed from sight, however now whistleblowers don’t have to depend on any media agencies to reveal the truth. Just as detective Byomkesh Bakshi, everyone today wants to be ‘The Truth Seeker, and social media has facilitated this journalism earnestly.

This has also become a way to motivate those who generally don’t get covered by mainstream media. While in the olden days only historians, storytellers, and writers made accounts of plagues and wars, today the tool to express ourselves is available to everyone. We are all creating memoirs of our happy times and stories of the hardships by penning down our views freely through blogs, articles, posts, poems, etc. Also unlike those times where we lost account of oral histories and perishable texts, today whatever happens on the internet, stays within it eternally.

Each One Treats One

Having been confined to our homes and closed spaces many of us are now grappling with stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness. The pandemic has done more harm to our mental well-being than just physically affecting our health. To address these issues, many online seminars by distinguished scholars and tips by psychologists are being provided for help. Apart from these, if we all just connect through social media and ask our close ones simply if they ‘are doing okay!’ might work as a placebo more than any other therapy.

 

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Ushered In An Era Of Infodemics

In this digital age, infodemic spreads like wildfire. It creates a breeding ground for uncertainty. Uncertainty in turn fuels scepticism and distrust, which is the perfect environment for fear, anxiety, finger-pointing, stigmatization, violent aggression, and dismissal of proven public health measures — which can lead to loss of life.

With the unfolding of COVID-19, the same tools have also enabled and amplified the current situation which continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic.

We often receive absurd messages like- girls must avoid getting vaccinated while on their menses, 5G mobile networks spread COVID-19, people drinking alcohol will not have COVID, and so on. Interestingly, most of us without even thinking, either react instantly to it or start circulating these messages. These factoids are a big threat as they create panic and confusion.

A Virulent Spread Of Information- Fake And Real

Early reportage of the pandemic in India generalised some sections of the population as wilful carriers of COVID-19. This biased coverage began after a religious gathering turned out to be a super-spreader event. Soon after, demeaning hashtags started trending on social media, in effect labelling a particular religious community as a collective danger to health and society. These hateful narratives have been successfully fostered within society’s digital communities.

 

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Thus, social media platforms may have democratised the internet, but the same technology has created conflicts by enabling the proliferation of erroneous information at an unprecedented pace. In a 2017 study of the US, a team from MIT found that fake news spread, “farther, faster, and deeper” on these platforms.

Currently, online campaigns regarding sensitisation towards vaccines, plasma donation, and bursting general myths created by ‘public physicians’ or ‘self-claimed doctors’ are going viral. The younger population needs to read the information carefully and understand all aspects of the issue before sharing any news blindly. There is also a need to sensitise the older generation in not sharing anything which is not authentic.

Changing their opinions might take time, but affiliating oneself with a side of the debate doesn’t mean that it has to be the ultimate truth. Finally, in this time of infomedic, it will be in our favour to not act naive and ignorant while using social media. So in these trying times let us also keep our virtual space clean and safe (safai bhi, kadai bhi, dawai bhi) for everyone as this is our alternate life and ultimate reality.

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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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