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As An Independent Woman In This Country, What Are The Freedoms I Want?

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Happy independence day!

This day and the term independence has always held a special place for me. Yes, I am referring to the patriotic feelings and thinking about the feelings that our freedom fighters had, to fight for the country’s freedom from the colonialism of the British.

Independence Day
India celebrated its 75th independence day on August 15, 2021. Representational image.

But, I feel the same feelings of urgency for:
1. Feeling safe as a woman in the country.

2. Feeling safe as a woman, or rather a person, when my parents, my sister and my boyfriend talk about my work and qualifications to people.

3. Feeling safe as a woman, for having whatever body shape I have, and not being reduced or made to feel small because of it.

4. Feeling safe and accepted for the thoughts and opinions I carry, even though it doesn’t fall in the bracket of what’s common and should be said and accepted.

5. Feeling safe and acknowledged for my contribution to people’s mental health and well-being. Rather than my ideas, methods and views being taken by people who use the comfortable influence they have, to gain popularity for it!

6. Feeling safe and proud of people about knowing me through me, and not the basis of people who gossip about me. They don’t know who I am and they are so confused about me that they speak lies.

7. Helping feel people feel safe, if they feel connected to me or my thoughts. My thoughts tend to encourage people to have their own opinions and use critical thinking.

8. Feeling safe, when people get to know, how much I have done, put in and fought for normalising mental health.

I stand for an education which believes it is important to tell to people, help them learn, rather than beating them down with statements of mere acceptance of mental health. You have to understand where they are coming from.

9. Feel safe when as a woman, I stand as more knowledgable than a man or a senior. Yes, I have such accomplishments.

And, I have teachers who feel jealous and misguide people about me… even insult me on the day I was supposed to get an award for my contribution. No one informed me.

In fact, when I asked them, their reply was, “Do you really think you deserve it? You are in second year, only third year people get awards.”

The other one went on to say that my admission in NIMHANS (national institute of mental health and neurosciences), Bengaluru, was secured via bribing the admin, so juniors shouldn’t speak to me.

They also said that my initiative, Psy-Fi, is waste of time and one should only focus on degrees like M.Phil, which makes psychologists seem more acceptable.

These teachers insulted my sister, because she was my sister! And then they tell me to believe in the education system…

I want to make the world a better place by contributing to people’s mental well-being and health. Representational image.

10. Feel safe and not lose friends because you don’t want to cook, but build nations. Trust me, there are a lot of people who talk of women empowerment, but they have left me because I’m an empowered woman.

11. Feeling safe and talking healthy about topics which need attention. By talking about taboo topics, I am not asking for sex.

12. Feeling safe and heard when I write lot of emails to people and organisations, to consider me for a job opening, but without an influential person being the mediator.

13. Feeling safe while using social media. I don’t want to feel frustrated about people doing the same things as me and have people who support them just because they speak a sugarcoated language and I stand alone. My family is my only support.

14. Feeling safe and accepted for dating a younger man of my choice, who makes me feel comfortable and not exploited. He makes me feel like: “Jigyasa, you are meant for a bigger purpose.”

15. Feeling safe and accepted as a trainer/teacher. I have done so much for free. I have helped students build and hold on to their opinions. I have made them feel like I have their back.

17. Finally, feeling safe and not receiving rubbish, free lectures on how I’ll look better and beautiful if I reduce weight. I don’t want to be asked about kitchen sets or to learn about them. I don’t want to be judged for wearing mostly Indian clothes… sarees in particular!

Can you imagine this: my boyfriend’s friend spoke to him to leave me, because I was “dominant”. I don’t do “housework” and he likes doing that.

Also, I was helping him with the idea of exploring what he likes than what’s been imposed on him, because, that’s how I discovered myself!

I was also molested by my school’s dance teacher’s assistant, because I wanted to get through the dance group of the school. I wanted to get through because I knew dance and not because I was slim or beautiful. He exploited the insecurities of a young girl in the seventh standard.

18. To feel safe and accepted as a person suffering from ADHD; and to not be called out for it, by colleagues, psychiatrists, guides etc. Because, when you have ADHD, you have an area of interest where you feel hyper focused about and have continuous thoughts running around it.

The list is never ending. People feel like you are okay and take you for granted. Sometimes, you feel intimidated and give your thoughts straight up. They can end up insulting you. This happened with me.

While I was doing my fellowship on mental health education from NIMHANS, I took some classes to mentor them on larger issues.

But since I was occupied with other things too, I was telling a specific group to slow things down when they speak about mental health. They took offence to it.

Because they were psychiatrists, they went to my guide and said that, “Jigyasa is unfit for the course and she has ADHD” and other unbearable things. Does this make it easier to approach a professional for treatment?

19. To feel acknowledged for one’s ideas and work. My colleagues filled my guides ears about me, took all my proposed ideas in their hands, because I was getting a lot of appreciation for my work.

I was treated in a worse manner after this. I was called out and insulted in many ways. And, the result? The conference we had was an idea that was close to my heart and my scientific presentation blew people away.

My knowledge and ideas got quoted by members of the press on Twitter.

20. To feel confident and sure of oneself, as a person with opinions, functional mental health and physical health. I want to be able to follow my passions, even if they sound irrelevant and absurd to others.

By Jigyasa Tandon

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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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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