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What Keeps Students From Small Towns From ‘Taking Breaks’ In Career?

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In a world that runs high on LinkedIn profiles, articulate CVs and hustle culture, nobody has the time to stop and stare. Each step of your professional life has to be meticulously planned and successfully executed; there is no scope for mistakes whatsoever. Individuals are constantly in the pursuit of outperforming their peers.

This leads to a feeling of being burned out, with young folks everywhere, tired of the endless hours and high pressure at work.

It is not an isolated phenomenon – the glorification of hustle culture and impossible deadlines has led to a mental health crisis. However, in this cutthroat race of projects and emails, some people tend to suffer more than others. When geography intersects with the arduous office and college work, you have the recipe for disaster ready to deliver.

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There are hundreds of students who, in the first place, are unable to afford the opportunities that will propel them to a better life. Lack of coaching institutes for competitive entrances, inability to access resources, an absence of the culture of excellence in their local areas is some of the many reasons that hinder youth from moving to cities.

For the select few who do, it is not a bed of roses either. Cultural shock is a very real experience for thousands of students and young professionals, trying to make a mark for themselves. They feel out of place in an ecosystem that is designed to exclude them, leading to a perennial struggle to devise ways and means to fit among the supposed ‘high society’.

“The cultural shift was substantial. Their (my friends) conversations revolved around Hollywood movies and shows, even the names of which I had not really heard of. So, that was kind of overwhelming while trying to fit in,” Siddharth Bastia, a third-year B. Tech student at NIT Rourkela explains.

Moreover, students and professionals often have higher benchmarks set for them in order to even survive. To make a name for themselves in a rapidly progressing scene, it becomes crucial to make their voices heard. However, that becomes difficult when you come from small towns and suburbs.

“When you come from a small town, you have to hustle in order to reach the table, leave alone securing a seat at it. You have to work on carving your own niche and keep working,” Gouraprasad Das, a former legal intern at the State Commission for Women and a native of Baripada, Odisha says.

Add Gender Identity To The Equation, And It Gets Worse

The gendered impact of the phenomenon too cannot be understated. At a lot of times, parents in small towns are wary of letting their daughters study in another town, unaccompanied. The apprehensions of gendered violence and the patriarchal constructs of confining women to domestic spaces play a significant role in obstructing any chances that they might have at securing a better career.

In the few cases that girls actually avail themselves of the opportunity to move out, restrictions on their mobility are imposed, often irrationally. They are subject to strict curfews, barred from using digital communication without supervision and placed in a state of constant surveillance. The constant denigration of their autonomy and the added pressure of work has the impact of double jeopardy on girls and women who come from small towns.

Intense work hours and the endeavour to prove oneself often take a toll on youth who are starting out. The dearth of a safety valve plays a significant role in further intensifying these efforts. That they would have to return to the starting line and redo the entire process all over again becomes a serious cause of concern.

This constant interplay of work pressure, navigating roadblocks and the fear of losing access to privileged spaces generates an atmosphere that adversely impacts mental health.

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Unlike their more privileged, urban counterparts who can afford to take a break so as to cope with the professional turmoil, it is not an option for small-town folks who risk losing all they have worked for.

The absence of opportunities back home and an unforgiving environment that restrains growth are crucial factors in young professionals’ hustling through toxic work cultures.

“I moved to a bigger city just on account of the fact that my town lacked a single good college, even for my intermediate studies. The institutions for pursuing my graduation were worse and that was one of the primary reasons it drove me to work harder and secure a seat at a good college,” Bastia, who is also an incoming intern at Qualcomm India and a native of Puri goes on to say.

It becomes imperative, at such a crucial turning, to learn how to cope with the anxiety that accompanies these intense hours of work. For some, it includes building a support group of peers which is a safe space to vent. Often, interacting with like-minded individuals helps ease off tensions and chart a path out of the turmoil.

“I was lucky to have a few of my school friends with me while I made the transition and that really helped me get accustomed to the new environment. I’d suggest to talk to your school friends if you can as you can be yourself with them without judgement,” he adds.

Another alternative in an extremely fast-paced world is availing professional help in the form of counselling or therapy. However, the inherent stigma and taboo around mental health services restrain many young persons from going that way.

As everyone is not fortunate enough to be able to see a therapist, I tend to cope with increased stress by working out, maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and talking to my friends. The fear of returning to what you came from can often be stressful, so one needs to have proper mechanisms to deal with it,” says Das, who is also a third-year law student at KIIT School of Law emphasizes further.

Small town youth often face an uphill task in availing resources and accessing spaces which puts them at a disadvantage. With more and more young professionals speaking up and acknowledging that there is a problem, maybe there’s still hope for systemic and sustained change in the ecosystem.

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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.

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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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