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Women Have Equal Rights Now, But The World Continues To Be Unequal

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I inhabit a milieu which is, on the surface, egalitarian and progressive. The women I’ve grown up with and those around me (myself included)—we all have, or expect to have, successful careers of our own.

We dress fashionably, date freely, drive whatever we can get our hands on, and often talk back to our elders.

But we also think ten times before doing things we’d do with reckless abandon if only we were members of the male sex… That is, if we end up doing these things at all.

Stepping out after dark, for instance. Or drinking. Or playing certain sports. Or pursuing certain careers. We’re allowed to make fewer mistakes, if any.

We carry the added burden of being custodians of our families’ “honour”. We also carry the burden of looking attractive at all times, day and night, in sickness and in health.

Women carry the unfair burden of looking attractive at all times. Representational image. Photo credit: Pxfuel.

We Grow Up Feeling Like We Are Less Than

To be attractive, in this case, means to fit into narrow, rigid, unyielding standards the British so generously left us with, or shall I say unleashed upon us, before departing for good.

We’re either too large or too tiny… Either too voluptuous or too “flat”. We are either slutty or matronly… too quiet or troublemakers. Always lacking in some respect, seldom just right.

Though it’s considered improper to say this out loud in “polite society”, it is undeniable that we grow up with the knowledge that we’re somehow less than. Parents have as many of us as it takes to finally have the coveted male heir.

We are the have-nots… The ones that lost the genetic lottery, and must now live with the repercussions of losing. Losing, however, was neither a deliberate act, nor a consequence of any incompetence on our parts. It was sheer luck.

In this case, a lack thereof. Anything or anyone exhibiting traits typically associated with us is fair game. “Too girly!” “Not man enough!”, “ew, gay!” or “weak”.

“Pussy”, a word which, anatomically speaking, ought to be an antonym of “weak”, has been reduced to a synonym thereof.

Women Are Pitted Against Each Other

Our families, as well as society at large, take great pride in having given us “equal rights”, which, it must be noted, is not the same as a level playing field. Here’s why.

While they pat themselves on the back for having educated us and “allowed” us to work, they know when to stop… When enough is enough.

Lest we get drunk on the illusion of power presented to us as the real deal, and begin to see ourselves as equal to men. In order to ensure we don’t transgress, they simultaneously attack us with double standards and unrealistic expectations.

They do what they’re best at: they keep us in what they think are our places by employing the strategy of “divide and rule” i.e., by turning us against one another.

Woman versus woman. Sister versus sister. Mother versus daughter. Mother in law versus daughter in law. Sister in law versus sister in law. Friend versus friend. Colleague versus colleague.

Unfortunately, the list goes on. And when they see their designs succeed, they mock and condescend.

Even at work, we are constantly underestimated, and our credentials always suspect. Our hard earned successes are attributed to several factors, ranging from the ridiculous to the downright offensive.

A still from the Bollywood film, Hum Tum. Representational image.

The possibility that we may be meritorious and hardworking is overlooked. In order to be half as successful as our male counterparts, we must work twice as hard.

We’re thus, brainwashed into silencing, and imposing limitations on our own selves… Into doing their dirty work for them, so they need not bother. How efficient!

Marriage And Motherhood Are Seen As Musts

As far as they are concerned, marrying us off is considered the best course of action. We must be transferred from one set of masters to another without any further delay… With “gifts” in tow, of course. These may be in cash or in kind, and “nothing” is not an option.

Fortunate are those of us, who can choose whom to marry. Even rarer, and more fortunate, are those of us, who can choose whether to marry in the first place.

Now, on to the much awaited subject: that of offspring. Preferably biological. Preferably multiple. Preferably male.

With motherhood being mandatory, akin to an unavoidable right of passage, “none” is not an option.

If we’re beaten, raped, and/or abandoned, needless to say, we’re to blame. No matter what we wear, what we do, what we say and how we say it, they’ll gang up on us. They’ve been wronged, after all, their “honour” compromised.

No matter the physical, emotional, psychological, legal, and financial hell they’ve set us up for and put us through.

And who are “they”? “They” aren’t all men, nor are all of “them” men. “They” are too many men, even too many women. There are, however, enough of “them” to make sure the world remains as cruel, as unequal, and as unfair a place as ever.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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