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We’ll ‘Allow’ Our Daughters To Complete Class 12, That’s More Than Our Relatives

This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Payal, a fourteen-year-old girl, lives in a shelter home in Delhi’s Sarai Kale Khan area with her five family members. Every day, she goes out to attend a Zoom class online and returns to help with daily chores.

She says, “It is difficult for me to study with so many people around, so I go out of the shelter home, attend the class, and return only after completing my homework. I am just happy that I am able to study… two years ago, I used to beg and pick up waste from the road. So many other children I know are not even getting this opportunity.

Payal is among 350 lucky children from the slums and low-income families who are being taught by an NGO named CHETNA in New Delhi. However, there are still many children who haven’t been rescued from the shackles of poverty.

Overall, the lockdown in India has affected 158 million girl students, impacting their dreams of formal education and of better lives. Studies further reveal that even before COVID-19, India had 30 million out-of-school children, of which 40% were adolescent girls.

Specifically, in the National Capital, nearly 16 lakh children from low-income families studying in government and municipal schools face disruptions in their studies without access to mobiles, internet, and laptops, even as privileged students from private schools are taking online classes amid the lockdown.

Digital Divide

Technology has been highly gender-cognizant and discriminative in India. The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019 analyzes that Indian women are 56% less likely to use the internet than men, with only 35% of active users being women. At the same time, only 38% of women have access to a device in comparison to 71% of men.

Since lockdown, Radhika, a teacher at a government-aided school in Delhi, has been conducting online classes for her students. She came across a family of four siblings that didn’t allow their three daughters to take the classes.

The parents reasoned that online education for four children consumed many resources like the internet and devices, and they did not have enough money to bear the cost. They told her they wanted to prioritize their son’s education. “At least we were going to allow our daughters to study till the 12th; otherwise, girls in our family are not encouraged to go to school,” They added.

When pushed to the limits, many parents chose to prioritize their son’s education. This is because societal norms indicate that he will bring glory to his family, carry the lineage, and look after the parents in their old age. On the other hand, girls will marry into other families, so what’s the need of spending precious resources on them in this situation.

Shreya, a 12-year-old girl from a Delhi Government school, says, “I can’t use the phone at home. My parents fear that I will talk to boys and not focus on my studies.” Thus, if the girls use a phone, they will be seen treading on the ‘wrong path’.

On asking whether she knows how to use the device or the internet, she says, “I only know how to download notes on WhatsApp, as I don’t have practice using the phone and also I don’t understand English.” Therefore, Technological ignorance and language barriers have further caused hindrance in girl’s education in the pandemic.

Burden Of The Household

The patriarchal setup has created rigid segregation of roles at home. Girls are expected to do domestic chores, forcing them to ignore studies and eventually drop out of the school system forever. A report by India’s Centre for Budget and Policy Studies found 71% of girls are doing domestic chores during the pandemic, compared to 38% of boys.

Kriti, a class 10 student who stays in a one-room flat in Delhi, finds it hard to attend online classes. The daughter of a rickshaw-puller doesn’t own a laptop, and the family possesses only one smartphone, that too by her father. Since the lockdown was imposed, Kriti’s mother has been working as domestic help in a nearby colony.

I have to clean the house, cook food, and look after my younger siblings in the absence of my mother, due to which I have to miss my classes. I have to study myself from material available in WhatsApp groups,” said Kriti.

Violence, Child Marriage, And Child Labor

During the lockdown, the extended time families spent at home increased gender-based violence like sexual abuse, harassment, domestic violence, etc. The worst part was that the girls were confined with the abuser and had nowhere to escape. This jeopardized girls’ ability to continue learning and led to mental health hazards like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. Second, limited access to police, justice, and social support services, further aggravated the issue.

Instances of child marriages and early pregnancies have also risen exponentially. Seema, who is a mother of two daughters, says, “My relatives pressurized me to marry off my teenage daughters and get rid of the ‘burden’ in the lockdown, but I made sure that they continue their education, and not be a victim of child marriage like me.

Studies predict that about 20% of girls will not return to school after the pandemic. Many families that experienced a cash crunch in lockdown are also searching for extra sources of income, and girls are sent to other houses as maids.

Mid Day Meals

One of the most prominent side effects of the closure of schools is the end of Mid-day meal programs. These meals ensured at least one meal per day for most children. Now, this guaranteed meal is also gone, and issues of malnutrition and health hazards have risen.

Menstrual Hygiene

Reshma, a class 11 student in a Delhi government school, says, “We used to get free sanitary napkins every month in school, but now I have to use cloth instead, which is very uncomfortable because we can’t afford sanitary napkins.

Schools provided amenities such as a clean washroom and sanitary napkins and played an integral role in sensitizing and sparking conversations about relevant issues like menstrual hygiene, sex education, women safety, sexual abuse, harassment, etc. However, this has not been possible in the online mode.

The Way Forward

Therefore, there is an urgent need for implementing policies to ensure that the Digital Divide does not manifest into a divide of opportunity and education. RTE mandates free education for 6-14 years olds. Therefore this should also be implemented in exceptional situations such as the pandemic.

Thus, to bridge the digital divide, there should be a collaboration between government, civil society, and the private sector, and they must painstakingly work to improve digital infrastructure, technological literacy, and connectivity to rural areas. In addition, the values of digital inclusivity and gender equity must be taught in policymaking as well.

Apart from this, there is a need for societal change and a paradigm shift. People should be made sensitive, empathetic, and tolerant to other genders’ needs and create an inclusive environment for them to progress. This begins with the family itself, where the children should feel equal, irrespective of gender, and see the other genders as equal. Lastly, remember that gender equality is not a women’s issue; it is a human issue as it affects us all and can be achieved only if we work hand in hand.

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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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