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Is Women’s Empowerment Just A Fairy Tale In Modern India?

TW: Sexual Assault

Once upon a time, a King arrived in a nation filled with peace, harmony, invention, and wealth, promising brighter days and better governance. Sick of the terrible mess their divine land was in, the populace demanded less corruption, a higher standard of living, better jobs, a narrower class divide, and greater safety and empowerment for their women, which the King offered. Masterstroke after masterstroke, the King and his loyal Ministers excelled at making promises and then keeping them on paper.

The King had nominated 11 women to be his devoted Ministers, demonstrating the bright future that the women of this hallowed kingdom, the land of a thousand-odd Goddesses, have.

And The Reality Of This Kingdom?

Photo: @ambedkariteIND. Protest against the UP government’s handling of the Hathras rape case.

Every day, 88 women are raped in India, with just 30% of the perpetrators being punished, and these are only the cases that have been recorded. According to a LiveMint piece from April 2018, about 99 percent of sexual assault instances go unreported, with the majority of these cases being perpetrated by the women’s spouses.

The bodies of children who are raped and murdered are being burned in front of law enforcement authorities and other administrative chiefs, possibly to hide the failure of their legal, executive, and administrative system in the ashes of these innocent children and young women.

Smt. Smriti Irani, who has been talked about as a “feminist” icon by the biased, blind, and bought Media, also the Minister of Women and Children’s development strategically avoided statements concerning the Unnao and Hathras cases, is now silent about the alleged gangrape and forced cremation of a 9-year-old year in Delhi. She did, however, share a meme about football star Lionel Messi exiting Barcelona after 21 years- a commendable step towards female empowerment, given that football as a sport is stereotypically a male-dominated space.

Smt. Irani announced recently that 51,600 rape cases have been ‘disposed of’ by 660 Fast Track Courts thanks to the Nirbhaya Fund, which, according to an Oxfam India report, is grossly inadequate, accounting for less than a quarter of the amount required. This is a notable initiative, except that little is being done to prevent these incidents from occurring in the first place. 2021-2022, the Ministry of Women and Child Development merged three Nirbhaya Fund programs under a single umbrella scheme called SAMBAL, allocations for which are 10% lower than the combined allocations for all of these schemes the previous year, making it even more insufficient.

In other instances where patriarchy and gender disparity were shattered, Hon’ble Finance Minister of India, Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman in her press conferences encouraged female journalists to ask more questions and for sexist jokes to not be normalized in everyday conversations. On the other hand, India’s Union Budget 2020-21 allocated to women is less than 5% of the total budget while women make up nearly half the population of India. According to estimates by the World Bank, female labor force participation dropped down to 20.3% in 2019 and 15.5% in April 2020.

The idea of providing free LPG cylinders, along with regressive schemes wrapped in feminist packaging, only serves to reinforce gender norms and the idea that women’s potential is limited to domestic chores; a dangerous example set by a government that has pushed India down to 140th place out of 156 countries in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index. Unsurprisingly, none of the programs includes explicit provisions for Transwomen, and their welfare, growth, and social and financial upliftment have not been discussed by the NDA government’s feminist icons, who also supported the tyrannical ‘The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019’.

Women have tried speaking out against these and other atrocities against women in the media and on social media platforms, only to be welcomed with sexist remarks, stalking, doxing, and rape threats, none of which have been explicitly condemned by the government, and no actions have been taken to address them. As a young woman who has recently entered the political arena, the current state of events is frightening to me and my family, as it is to hundreds of other young women who are hesitant to speak out against bigotry and injustice.

It is in our power to demand accountability, our rights, and a better future, and it begins with knowing our role in electing a government that allows for criticism and encourages us to reclaim control over our own lives and bodies. This tale may not have an ending yet, but it does have a moral- the next time we, the women of India, arrive at a polling booth, we remember the injustices the past few years have given us; we remember forced cremations of rape victims, we remember their silence and that quietude enables.

The grand ‘The End’ to this tale about the hallowed kingdom, the land of a thousand-odd Goddesses, lies in the hand of the modern woman.

Feature 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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