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From Actresses, To You And Me: If You’re A Woman, You’ll Be Judged For Your Clothes

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“The emotional, sexual and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says- It’s a girl.”

-Shirley Chisholm (Former Member of the New York State Assembly)

Since the beginning of time, women have been denied opportunities at least once in their lives. To be honest, it has become a part of our lifestyle now. We are more astonished to hear the word ‘yes’ than ‘no’. A no from society is what we expect since it is all we have got growing up. No short clothes because you’re too fat or too skinny, no going out late at night because boys can’t control themselves, no working because you are supposed to take care of your family and household.

Representational image.

I feel that every religion has put us in a tough spot. Women are not allowed to perform the last rites of their close ones, no matter what the situation is. Some religions don’t allow women to leave the house without covering their faces. Women, when on their periods, are not allowed to enter the kitchen or prayer room. In some rural areas, they’re not even allowed to sleep with their husband in the same bed as they are considered impure while menstruating!

It is impractical, illogical, and completely inappropriate for women to be treated this way!

In our country, according to the annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2019, an average of 88 cases was registered daily wherein we only have records of registered cases; hundreds of complaints are not registered and out of those hundreds, 23% of women know their attacker. The most common reason given by the rapist is because she was wearing short clothes indicating that she was asking for it.

A famous comedian Vir Das once said, “The infinite beauty and fun of being a woman is if she’s asking for it, SHE CAN JUST ASK FOR IT!”

Indian actress Neena Gupta recently paid a visit to Gulzar Saab, a remarkable Indian lyricist to present him with a copy of her autobiography- Sach Kahun Toh, which was launched on 14th June by Kareena Kapoor Khan. She was trolled on social media just for wearing shorts adding revealing clothes into the controversial topic list.

She shared a short video on her Instagram page where she said, “Main apni book dene aayi hoon Gulzar Saab ko. I hope yeh pad le. Padhoge? Pad ke batana kaisi hai.” (I have come here to give my book to Gulzar Saab, I hope he reads it. Will you read it? Read and tell me how it was.)

However while she received praise from celebrities such as Anil Kapoor, trolls did not leave anything to chance. Soon after she posted, her comments were filled with trolls like:-

This stereotype that older women cannot wear short clothes is absolutely ridiculous! Even though we all have heard this an ample number of times by now, but for those who still haven’t got it through their thick heads- It is her choice!

We see older men (grandparents, uncles, fathers, etc.) in shorts and no one objects to them. But when an older woman wears shorts people feel attacked. Why do they feel threatened when they see a 60-year-old woman wearing shorts?

Why do we wear clothes? We wear clothes to protect our bodies. That’s it. But everyone’s clothing style differs according to their own comfort level. Some might feel comfortable wearing a tank top whereas some people might feel better when they wear a t-shirt; some might like skirts or shorts while others might prefer jeans or trousers. Bottom line is, wear what makes you feel good.

Hats off to actress Neena Gupta who with her fashion choice is standing up to society and its age-old norms!

Another person who recently stood up to patriarchy with her bold move was Indian actress, fashion designer and television presenter, Mandira Bedi. Bedi’s husband- Raj Kaushal, an Indian director passed away on 30th June 2021.

Mandira was trolled for performing the last rites of her husband in jeans.

Even in times of grief, Bedi performed the last rites of her husband. With the earthen pot in one hand and holding the bier of her late husband with the other, Bedi carried out the entire ceremony.

Nevertheless, trolls didn’t leave her alone. When Mandira’s friends poured their hearts out with grief on social media, many people commented on her choice of clothing.

Mandira Bedi trolled for wearing Jeans and T-Shirt at husband Raj Kaushal's last rites | Sangbad Pratidin

This wasn’t it. Some people also felt attacked when they saw Mandira, a woman, performing the last rites of her beloved husband.

In Hinduism, usually, the last rites are performed by the men of the family; where the eldest son is head of the ceremony, which is attended by men only. According to society, during the funeral and the ceremonies, the women who are present must dress conservatively, covering their arms and knees. However, there is no such rule for men.

When asked what other option she could have chosen instead of performing the rites herself, people stupidly said “she has a son”. The son being spoken about here is 10-year-old Vir Kaushal. Any 10-year-old would be heartbroken over his father’s death. Thus, Mandira Bedi did something any other mother would do, that is, protect her children.

Standing up to patriarchy, Bedi inspired millions of women all over the country.

These women have not only broken absurd stereotypes but are also inspirational. They teach us that we can be what we want to be, not what everyone else expects us to be. Kudos!

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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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