All posts tagged: India

Raising Awareness of Menstruation and Sustainability in India

During a visit to Auroville, India a couple of days ago I was happy to have the opportunity to chat briefly with Eco Femme co-founder Kathy Walkling in between customers at their busy stall at the market. I had already heard about Eco Femme before I came to India and I was exited to meet the people behind it in real life. I wanted to get to know more about their important work on raising awareness of menstrual hygiene and sustainability among rural women in the state of Tamil Nadu. Eco Femme was founded in 2010 and in collaboration with the Auroville Village Action Group – an NGO working for womens’ empowerment in rural Tamil Nadu – they started to design and produce eco-friendly, washable cloth pads for sale worldwide. The cloth pads are stitched by women in self-help groups who have been trained in advanced tailoring. The women run their own collective tailoring unit and Eco Femme, whose monthly production order alone provides a full time livelihood to 7 women, is just one of their customers. The cloth pads …

The Gender Boundaries Imposed on Children in India

Many children worldwide have grown up playing with Barbie dolls and Transformers. You can perhaps guess which children played with which toys. From the time of our birth we are taught the ways in which males and females should conduct themselves. Why does society enforce such restrictions from the moment a child is born? Too often, our society sees men as the working hand of the family and women as the caretakers of homes. Both put in equal effort and time but the work done by women is not really considered “work”. It is a common fact that working women are paid less than their male counterparts. Many parents invariably end up buying toys and clothes – pink for the girls and blue for the boys – based on prevalent and enforced gender notions. Mine did too. Why is that only girls can have pink and only boys can have blue things? Both are equally beautiful colors! So why is it that society laughs at a boy wearing a pink shirt? “Don’t lift that, it’s too heavy.” Most girls have heard something like this …

Encouraging Girls to Take on the World through Education Centres in India

Offering girls basic education is one sure way of giving them much greater power – of enabling them to make genuine choices over the kinds of lives they wish to lead. This is not a luxury. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women establish it as a basic human right. So why is it that despite proving to be a blessing to society the girl child is – in the worst case scenario – killed in the womb, or otherwise allowed to breathe but only the air of negligence, discrimination and deprivation? Today, we’re not only proud of great women of science like Sunita Williams, or women who’ve acted as agents of change like Sarojini Naidu, or  women who’ve taught us what it means to be human like Mother Teresa, but we also encourage such people to come forward and reform our world. Why is it that even though we claim to be the biggest democracy in the world we simply cannot destroy the …

My Attempts at Facilitating Change in Rural India

In my final year of medical school, as I was reading a chapter on Maternal and Child Health, I came across a table of mortality rates elaborating the health status of mothers and children of my country. They were dismal and though I could see that progress had been made, to my 20 year old brain, it seemed insufficient and too slow to be accepted. After all, these were lives and not just numbers! The rural-urban difference made the figures look worse. I was restless. How could I bridge this gap? I reasoned – a woman was the base of the society’s pyramid and if I could do something to strengthen her I could attempt to address this gap. I was also convinced that since most of India’s population lived in rural areas, in order to make a significant impact, I should focus on rural areas. Though I had been reared in a city and had never seen what a village looked like, I was ready to learn along the way. Itching to materialise this dream, …

The Maverick Collective: Bringing Cancer Screening to Uttar Pradesh

At Women Deliver 2016, Girls’ Globe attended the launch of The Maverick Collective, an initiative by Population Services International (PSI) and the brainchild of HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Melinda Gates and Kate Roberts. Borne of frustration about a lack of follow-through on ideas for change, the collective aims to bring philanthropy to a new generation of donors, those who are actively engaged with their projects on the ground. Girls’ Globe was able to talk to some of the inaugural members of the Maverick Collective, which has projects spanning across the globe. The following is an interview with Kathryn Vizas, who tackled the issue of cervical cancer in one of the poorest and most populous regions of India.  GG: How did you hear about The Maverick Collective? KV: It was 3 and a half years ago, I was at  a women’s conference in New York which I sort of decided to attend on a whim because some of the topics seemed interesting. My husband and I had recently relocated at that point, so I hadn’t …

Building a movement around Khatna

This is part 2 in a two-part series on FGM in India. Read Part 1 here.  Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or “Khatna”, as it is referred to in India, is practised secretly among the Bohra community. Over the past year, several women from the community have spoken up about the practice while encouraging other women from the community to speak up as well. I speak to Mariya Taher from Sahiyo, an organisation building a movement against Khatna on this issue and their work. “More than a year ago, five women who felt strongly about the ritual of female genital cutting within the Bohra community came together to fight this practise. Each one of us had been working on the topic for many years,” Mariya said. Mariya is a social worker, activist and writer who lives in the United States. The group includes a social worker, a researcher, two filmmakers and a journalist located in different parts of the world; and all of whom had already been speaking out against the practice of Khatna. “As our …

Indian women speak out against FGM

This article is part 1 of a two-part series on FGM in India Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is traditionally known to be practised in 30 African countries. According to latest reports from international agencies like UNICEF, it is said that FGM has been done on at least 200 million girls. I recently interviewed Masooma Ranalvi who began a campaign to encourage Indian women from the Bohra community to speak up against the practice. The practice is called Khatna locally and is classified as Type 1 FGM by the WHO. It is estimated that there are nearly 1.5 million Bohras globally who have undergone FGM but numbers on how many have been cut are still unavailable. GG: I read about the campaign India Speaks Out on FGM through the article highlighting the petition in The Ladies Finger. Till I read this article, I had no idea that the practice existed in India. It is usually portrayed as an African issue. Your thoughts? MR: Yes that’s true. It is India’s best kept secret. There is a reason behind …

The Diary of an Indian sex-educator

Her: “Is it possible for you to talk on menstruation and child sexual abuse to young girls?” Me: “Sure! What age are they?” Her: “Studying in Class 5 and 6.” Me: “Great! That shouldn’t be a problem.” Her: “There is one thing though, you can’t talk about sex.” Awkward silence followed. I had no choice but to agree. This was my first encounter with sex-ed. I had been working with a feminist organisation in Hyderabad for a year already. I was 24 years old. I trained on legal rights, human rights and legislations but had not started training on sex, sexuality or reproductive health, for that matter. Those were reserved for experienced trainers. The above conversation was merely an introduction to the long list of conditions sex educators must work with. To prepare for this class in a private school in a posh part of the city, I spent two weeks reading. I read about the human body. I studied how the parts looked. I read books for kids, for adults, for trainers, for teachers …

Fighting the perfect shape

Growing up, I was extremely skinny. Though I met parts of the ideal body image, I was always asked a lot of questions about not eating enough. Ironically, I was a massive junk food and candy eater. Grass was greener on the other side and I ached to put on weight. At least to stop the inappropriate malnutrition questions being thrown at my mother. Puberty and certain lifestyle changes had a surprise waiting for me. I began to slowly but steadily put on weight. Surprise, surprise! I was extremely unhappy despite the fact that my wish had come true. Till I began to read and critically analyse body image, I was reduced to covering up the flab and dressing in loose fitted clothes. Finally giving in to the uneasy feelings, I wandered into a doctor’s office to get some clarity on the weight gain. Only to find out I had a health condition (Poly Cystic Ovaries Syndrome) that had certain correlations with weight gain. Body image is a huge problem across the world. Fat shaming …

Women and Communities Working Together to Improve Maternal and Newborn Health

When women work together, change happens. Regardless of where you live in the world, this is a fact that cannot be denied. Women give life, care for their families, work in markets, trade commodities and help their families grow and thrive. We have all heard that if you invest in a woman, she in turn will invest 90% of what she earns back into her family to improve their livelihood. So why do millions of women – and their babies – continue to face unnecessary and life-threatening risk and danger around the world every day? Women lack access to adequate healthcare facilities, skilled birth attendants and at times are not allowed to receive care from a healthcare facility due to cultural stigmas. Despite notable progress that has been achieved, the fact remains that health disparities for women and newborns continue to be broad and interlinked. In 2014, the World Health Organization set forth a recommendation based on fifteen years of maternal and newborn health research. The recommendation posited the need to create women’s groups to improve the health of mother’s and newborns around …