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Tokenism Ki Bhi Seema Hoti Hai: How Corporates Profit From Pride Month

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In June every year, the rainbow flag floods our Instagram stories and Facebook feed to exemplify support for the queer community. All this stands quite in contrast with on ground realities. An investigatory video by The Quint showed the struggles of LGBTQIA+ community, especially in small towns.

It is ironical to say the least, that the overt tokenism expressed online turns into apathy when rights and representation are called into question. This contradiction reflects starkly in the case of corporations and companies who show token support only to make profits off of it later or in some cases, engage in directly homophobic practices.

This phenomenon can be understood as pink washing or rainbow capitalism which is a marketing strategy to commodify LGBTQ+ demands for equality and acceptance. The practice stems from the fact that for many urban young adults modernism is a consumerist identity.

lgbtq pride
Representational image.

However, when it comes to questioning regressive attitudes and practices and building an inclusive community, many are as conservative as their parents.

The prime example of this is transphobia rampant in Indian campuses and homophobia in Indian schools. This is a direct result of the monetisation of politics and protests as a way to portray oneself as progressive and intellectual.

After the decriminalisation of Section 377 there was a sudden boom in queer targeted advertisements in Indian media. Rather than forwarding the cause of dismantling the gender binary, it turned out to be another gimmick in the name of sounding all ‘woke’ and ‘liberal’.

Corporate Tokenism And Profitability

A prime example of this are major corporate houses in India who have been at the forefront of LGBTQ+ inclusion campaign, all the while simultaneously transferring massive donations and electoral bonds to a political party which has often been in controversy due to its exclusionary policies and regressive bills.

It is not just India, though. Corporates across the world, while maintaining an image of queer friendly business practices donate millions of dollars to anti-gay and homophobic politicians who then systemically target these marginalized communities.

For example, pharma giant Pfizer came in last in a list of 9 corporations by donating almost a million dollars to anti-gay politicians while AT&T bagged the top spot with whopping donations in excess of 2.7 million dollars.

What’s worse is that these companies achieved perfect scores in the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) that measures LGBTQ+ friendly policies and initiatives in corporations.

More often than not, one of the most cited arguments by individuals is that they are not themselves queerphobic. However, irrespective of that fact, when these persons engage with and even increase the profitability of such institutions, they are structurally attacking the community and their rights.

A friend who decides to love you based on your marketability and palatability is no friend at all and the same stands true for being an ally. The concept of rainbow capitalism not a new phenomenon.

On the contrary, it is another consolidation of our pre-existing knowledge that any entity functioning solely for the purpose of greed has never and will never be a progressive force. The market guides where the money goes and money follows government diction and masses created by the consumerist culture.

This race of jumping on the queer bandwagon is nothing but a way of following the money trail and building up on the queer movement while leeching away the benefits and leaving the movement hollow.

Corporate India’s lip service to the queer folk came to a head with the global launch of a UN charter on LGBT rights in Mumbai. Nearly 4 years later, we seem to have barely made any progress.

All we can still hear is the voice of activists demanding laws against discrimination, and meanwhile the queer citizens in question facing horrifying discrimination and mental anguish in the same corporate world.

Pink Economy

‘Pink Economy’ or the percentage of GDP made by of the queer folk in India is assumed to be upwards of 1.4%,  accounting for nearly 2.5 million individuals. This whopping amount is what attracts big businesses and corporations, not a genuine care to make the society a better place for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Not to mention that this overt display of being an ally not only diverts attention from predominant material issues but also lulls the populace in a sense of false security where everything is sunshine and rainbows literally.

Queerness is intersectional and so is the fight for queer rights. This homogenization of issues has led to a race of token inclusion completely disregarding the issues and intersection of caste, gender and other very real socio-economic issues, thus alienating a very large population of queer individuals.

The basic rights of having a loving family and getting hitched to the person you love are still distant dreams for millions in this country where the right to be with a partner of your choice has recently been recognised. 

Queer liberation or liberation for any group of people does not just need commodities with rainbow flags or Instagram handles with altered logos. You cannot claim to want equality while perpetuating a system whose material basis is inequality.

LGBTQIA+ folks do not need self-anointed woke people dropping cultural crumbs while thriving on the market created by bloody struggles raging on for years just to win basic rights.

The queer citizens of this country need rights like reservation and acceptance and they won’t get that from guileless populist pandering by commercialisation and consumerism based on nothing but cheap activism.

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
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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