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“We Expect Leaders To Be Heroes, But They Are Just As Human As Us”

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​​“Leadership, essentially, is an act of convening—people, perspectives, and ideas” offers Ward Mailliard, an author and educator. Mailliard’s humble definition highlights the integrative act that leadership is.

I asked my 14-year-old cousin, what comes to his mind when he thinks of a leader? He is powerful, strong, and fearless, comes a quick response from Aayush, a school goer in the 8th standard.

I was not too surprised. The modern-day vision of a leader clearly hinges upon domination, power, and masculinity. It is not an act of convening as much as its an act of conquest now.

Representational image. Photo credit: Association for Psychological Science.

Leaders Are Human Beings Too

This vision sharply dictates who can and cannot be a leader. The ones who do not fit the paradigm of a leader must content themselves with being mere followers.

The biggest threat of this linear idea of leadership is that it not only surrenders rampant might to the one at the top, but also expects them to be a hero and not a human.

“A reality constructed by humans’ imagination, that provides a meaning to bind together the groups of people who share the common belief in them, is intersubjectivity” explains Claire Zhao Sun in the book “Intersubjectivity – The Limits of Knowledge and the Power of Bullshit”.

It is one person’s subjective reality sold as an objective one. Leadership along with money, laws, religions, etc, are such intersubjective realities. 

Representative image. Photo credit: Marla Cummins.

Given leadership’s dynamicity, a leader’s personal bias emerging from a certain traumatic experience or unresolved emotions, can quickly become an objective reality for the group they yield influence over.

“Give me a sure-shot strategy to unlock ’empathy’ (of late, a buzzword in business) in my team”, asked a corporate manager, who leads a large team of employees.

“What’s your own relationship with empathy? How do you define it for yourself?” I questioned.

The manager was slightly put off. “Why does it matter?” came the response. He added, “We would like to design a standard policy for the organisation.”

Strategies and policies often aid leadership to externalise inner challenges, and not engage with values like empathy at a deeper, personal level. “Policies seldom create a culture, sir,” I offered and took my leave.

Leader’s Subjective Reality Can Become Followers’ Objective Reality

If one looks at the rise in rabble-rousing and hate campaigns by politicians in India and the world over, one can see that it points towards unattended and unresolved personal trauma being directed at the public.

This kind of psychological projection is particularly detrimental given the machinery and resources at a leader’s disposal. State-sponsored genocides and mass slaughter, all over the world, cannot only be blamed on vicious leadership, but also needs to be looked at in the light of psychopathic leaders with unhealed trauma.

One can find psychiatric literature on world leaders’ diagnoses and how it determined their function as a leader. Among them, the psychopathography of Adolf Hitler is the most talked about.

Representational image. Artwork by Polish painter Mieczysław Kościelniak.

A quick stroll to your local bookstore will give you a glimpse of the mammoth “leadership industry”. Heroes from business, sports, politics, cults, and religions, offering the ultimate key to rule the world.

While a clear connection is made between a leader’s virtues and the impact of these virtues, their vices often remain unacknowledged. No offers on how leaders must work on their personal healing to create a healthier environment for themselves and for those they claim to serve.

Plenty of violence in leadership is swept under the carpet of “productivity” and “practicality”. It weighs heavily on leaders and all the other stakeholders.

Importance Of Healing In Leadership

In order to make a shift from domination to collaboration, and to move from power structures to ecosystems, our leadership must recognise trauma’s prevalence and adopt healing-centered approaches.

“Having recognized healing as an important part of my leadership has helped me acknowledge the pain I carry. It further supports me to be centered, spacious in my head, and lighter in my being,” said Vibhuti, a core team member of Youth Alliance

A healing-centered approach takes into account the often-neglected aspects of trust, vulnerability, co-dependence within self-awareness etc. It creates psychological safety to include others in your circle of awareness—which truly makes it an act of convening—of coming together.

The new-age leadership must redefine “productivity” as being whole and in harmony with oneself and others. 

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: @narendramodi, Twitter.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program
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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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