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On Topic: The July Review

From protests against the 12% GST imposed on sanitary napkins, conversations around menstrual leave policy, the much-awaited release of Lipstick Under My Burkha to the Indian team’s success at the Women’s Cricket World Cup, On Topic reviews major events and conversations around gender and women in India in July.

Activism and Advocacy

- July saw protests in different parts of the country against the 12% GST imposed on sanitary napkins. Students of the University of Kerala sent sanitary napkins with 'Bleed without fear, bleed without tax’ to the Union Finance Minister. Government officials, however, stated that their decision was driven by a desire to protect local manufacturers and avoid an inverted tax structure. This has also opened up critical conversations around the patriarchal beliefs underlying reproductive health concerns, as well as the environmental effects of sanitary napkins as compared to other menstrual hygiene products like cloth and menstrual cups.

-  #PropertyForHer is a campaign that is fighting for securing land and property rights for women in South Asia. The campaign was initiated by Kamla Bhasin after a conversation with journalist Radhika Bordia revealed that the latter couldn’t find one woman in Delhi who was ready to say that she hadn’t received her share of her family property on camera. In the past month, the campaign has started important conversations around women’s property rights and one must view them against statistics around female land ownership. In 2002, only 51% of surveyed widows inherited land from their deceased husbands and even as recently as 2010-11, the agricultural census shows that only 12.69% of rural women have ‘operational holdings’. The campaign not only appeals to those who view female land ownership from a gender equality lens but also those who view it from an instrumental lens with some posters having captions such as “If women have property, children have security”.

- Protests continued in Odisha against the liberalised liquor policy. Earlier this year, hundreds of women demanded the closure of liquor shops. These activists are largely wives of daily wage workers, marginal farmers and village artisans who spend a substantial amount of their income on liquor. July saw the indefinite dharna by the women of Shreepura village, demanding the removal of a liquor distillery in their village, reach its fiftieth day with the administration not yielding to their demands. This lack of response from the state machinery is particularly worrisome as it has been proven in numerous community studies that alcohol abuse results in physical, emotional and economic violence with the women in the family often being the recipients of such violence.

Employment and Livelihood

- Private sector Yes Bank has received $150 million funding from the US government and Wells Fargo to increase lending to support women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises in India. Yes Bank has stated that the facility will support financing women entrepreneurs in India, to drive future economic growth and job creation.

-Mumbai based digital media company, Culture Machine is offering 'menstrual leaveto female staff as part of its official policy and called on authorities to pass legislation on giving all working women the option of taking the first day of their period off through this video.  However, this move by Culture Machine and Gazoop has not been without criticism, with some arguing that such policies threaten to undermine women’s long-standing battle to discourage the notion that their natural cycle makes them weak or in any way less able. This debate has been ongoing for the last few years since several East Asian countries introduced them as a move to greater gender equality. While these op-ed pieces also share some of these criticisms, they also follow the historical roots of this policy. For example in Japan, when menstrual leave was enforced a little after WWII, "It represented their ability to speak openly about their bodies and to gain social recognition for their role as workers." The question is if ample paid sick leave for all can achieve the same goals as the menstrual leave?

Movies and Photography

-Shahria Sharmin has been chosen by Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas as her juror’s pick in this year’s Magnum Awards, for her images of hijra communities in Bangladesh and India. Her images are deeply personal portraits and she aims to continue her documentation in the hopes that her work can help hijras to “find a breathing space in a claustrophobic society.”

-Lipstick Under My Burkha has made its debut in India after months of wrangling with the censor board of India. Directed by Alankitra Shrivastav, the movie tells the story of four women grappling with their sexual desires, with society's regressive approach towards female sexuality  one of the dominant themes of the film. You can read our intern Zoya’s review here.

Gender, Sexuality and Reproductive Rights

- Reproductive Health Matters’ (RHM) latest issue on disability and sexuality was co-produced by CREA and one can read the entire publication for free here. For this themed issue, RHM brings together a selection of articles that shed light on the lives of people with disabilities, focusing on their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

-The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment, headed by Ramesh Bais, presented its 43rd report.The Committee has asked the government to clearly define a transgender person and to consider suitably incorporating the committee’s suggestions in 'The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016'.  Several issues that the bill needs to resolve include the question of current definition, which replaced the one in the 2015 draft inclusion of persons with intersex variations under the transgender umbrella; discrimination in employment not addressed etc. If these guidelines are not clarified, the bill might even harm the community.

-The Supreme Court has refused to allow an abortion for a 10-year-old girl, allegedly raped by her uncle, on the grounds that she is too far into her pregnancy. The doctors’ panel told the court that, at 32 weeks, the termination would be too risky. A lower court had earlier turned down her plea on similar grounds.The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows the termination only up to 20 weeks, and though the court has allowed termination beyond this permissible period in the past based on medical board recommendations, this case indicates the urgency with which this act needs to be amended to better address the varying concerns of Indian women - be they rape survivors, married women or sexually active single women.

Sports

-Women’s cricket saw India and England battle for the Women’s Cricket World Cup after seeing some terrific performances, especially India’s win against Australia in the semi-finals. The pulsating finish saw England win the cup by nine runs.

- The 2017 Asian Athletics Championships held from 6th to 9th July at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubanweswar saw India’s top of the table finish with a total of 29 medals. The Indian women gold medalists include Chitra P U in women’s 1500m run, Sudha Singh in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase, Manpreet Kaur in women’s Shot Put, Swapna Barman in Women’s Heptathlon, Nirmala Sheoran in Women’s 400m Run and the Women’s 4*400m relay.

-Dutee Chand who was subjected to a gender testing in 2013 has bagged a bronze medal in the 100m event at the 2017 Asian Athletics Championships. Just a day before the championship, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decided to return to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) with more evidence in support of its Hyperandrogenism Policy which ruled that any female athlete with naturally high testosterone levels ineligible for competition. Chand is allowed to continue to compete till a final decision is given by CAS on her appeal against the policy. However, unless athletic authorities want to take on all conditions that might result in an unfair advantage – biological, genetic, social or otherwise – it seems arbitrary to focus on testosterone in female athletes.

The World

-A recent report revealed the unjust  disparity in pay between men and women working at the BBC. The top-earning woman at the BBC takes home only a fifth of what the top-earning man at BBC does. This disparity is seen across all levels and an anonymous female senior journalist commented that “young female producers are kept long term on shabby short-term one or three-month or six-month contracts on rates that haven’t moved for 20 years or more.”

-A report from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California does not show promising results for representation of diversity, after analyzing the demographic makeup of every speaking or named characters from 100 highest-grossing films at the domestic box office every year since 2007. It found that the representation of women, minorities, LGBT people, disabled characters in films remains largely unchanged from the previous year. Exclusion, the report says, is the norm in Hollywood, not the exception.

-Google CEO, Sundar Pichai has stated that they are looking to train 10 million people in sub-Saharan Africa in online skills over the next five years. They also hope to train 100,000 software developers in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. This pledge is an expansion of an initiative launched in 2016 and the programme will try to ensure that at least 40% of people trained are women. However, many African women face cultural and social barriers to becoming entrepreneurs, so it is to be seen what the impact of this programme would be if sufficient employment avenues are not created post the training.

July at Zubaan

Zubaan commander-in-chief Urvashi Butalia has been awarded this year's Goethe Medal, an official distinction from the German Federal Republic. The medal "honors individuals who have displayed exceptional competence of the German language as well as in international cultural exchange”, and will be presented to Urvashi at a ceremony in Weimar in late August.

The e-Essays project has been making individual essays available in e-formats for a reasonable fee. The first four sets of the e-Essays focused on Indian women's movements, sexual violence, domestic space and kinship and religion and conflict. To be added to the mailing list, subscribe here!

We had three new book releases in July, Women, Peace and Security in Northeast India (Åshild Kolås (ed.), July 2017, Academic), Motherhood and Choice: Uncommon Mothers, Childfree Women(Amrita Nandy, July 2017, Academic) and Aosenla's Story (Temsula Ao, July 2017, Fiction)

Zubaan’s feminist book club will be discussing Attia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column this August. We’ll be meeting on the morning of Sunday, 20th August - if you’d like to join, shoot us  an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com).

New on our blog is our picks from the latest in YA lit. We would love to hear about your favourite YA titles!

That’s it for July, but On Topic will be back next month with more conversations, news and stories!

 

On Topic: May with Menstruation, Masturbation, & Mental Health

Events

-May is observed as International Masturbation Month and sex- positive website Agents of Ishq helped people celebrate it. Through the posts on their website and by using the hashtag #masturbationmay on social media platforms, they initiated conversations about female masturbation (something that isn’t talked about often) and talked about the different words people use to refer to masturbation. They even published a series of videos that addressed and dispelled various myths surrounding the topic!

-May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and Canada-based desi duo Chuski Pop, who host monthly podcasts on desi culture, women’s issues and society at large, dedicated their May podcast to talking about women’s mental health and addressing their own struggles with depression and anxiety. Catch them on Soundcloud here for more.

Governance and Politics

-Besides masturbation and mental health, the month was also dedicated to discussions on menstruation, owing to the fact that the new Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime has taxed sanitary napkins at 12%, but has made items like sindoor, bindis and bangles tax free. Although the 12% figure is a reduction from the earlier figure of 14.5%, this decision has angered many as it prioritizes the affordability of symbols of marriage and beauty over items that are of essential use to women.

In India, only 12% of the female population has access to sanitary products. Women who don’t enjoy access to these products use alternatives like rags, ashes and even old sand, leading to long term health complications and sometimes death. Government programmes do exist to promote menstrual health, however in states like Hyderabad and Telangana, they have suffered from bad implementation. A survey done in the two states reveals that while there are provisions that provide girls with supplies, disposal still remains an issue.

The public’s response to the new tax regime was swift—many took to social media to express their disappointment, and petitions and campaigns like #lahukalagaan were launched.

-Social media was also used by Chhattisgarh police officer Varsha Dongre to expose the (alleged) human rights violations being carried out by the Indian state. In a Facebook post, she talked about how young Adivasi girls in Bastar were subjected to extreme torture like electric shocks. She also went on to state that tribal women suspected of being Naxalites were being raped and assaulted. She was subsequently suspended for violation of conduct.

-While some girls are being denied their human rights, others are being denied their right to education. Schoolgirls from Rewari in Haryana sat on an 8 day hunger strike to demand the upgradation of their local school from Class 10 to 12. A similar protest also took place in Rajgarh. These strikes took place because schools that offered higher classes are located far away from the villages where the schoolgirls live, and they would consistently face sexual harassment during their long journey to school.

- Undoubtedly, education is an integral aspect of everyone’s lives, and how it is structured can shape worldviews and opinions. However, Indian education may soon witness the erasure of identities. The Central Board of Secondary Education in its course review meeting suggested that it may replace the term ‘Anti-Muslim Riots’ with ‘Gujarat Riots’ to refer to the 2002 communal riots. This definitely isn’t the first time that (potential) syllabus changes have reflected ideological considerations—in 2014, former HRD minister Smriti Irani announced that Kendriya Vidyalayas would discontinue teaching German as a third language as an alternative to Sanskrit, a decision she said was taken in view of "national interest".

Many BJP leaders have also been demanding the removal of Mughal emperors from textbooks to make more space for Hindu kings. Earlier this year, an RSS-organized workshop called Gyan Sangam was held in Delhi, and academics and vice chancellors of various central and state universities were on the list of attendees. The aim of the workshop was to discuss how to “Indianise” the educational system of the country and bring a “real nationalist narrative” to higher education.

-In representing all shades of opinion in governance, Mexico is making important strides. Mexico’s National Indigenous Governing Council appointed María de Jesús Patricio Martínez as their spokesperson. Backed by the leftist political group Zapatista Army of National Liberation, this decision will pave the way for her to run as an independent candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in 2018. As an indigenous woman who will now work towards securing representation for her historically underrepresented community, her appointment is extremely symbolic.

-Speaking of representation and recognition of identities—Taiwan made history this month when it became the first Asian country to decriminalize gay marriage. Its constitutional court declared that a new legal framework accommodative of gay marriage must be implemented within two years.

Legal Judgements

-The highly brutal and highly publicised Nirbhaya gang rape case came to a close on May 5th, when the Supreme Court upheld capital punishment for the accused. The court’s decision was met with mixed responses—many celebrated the decision and thought it was fitting, but some questioned the role of the death penalty as a deterrent. These concerns were further exacerbated when only a few days later, a woman was brutally gang raped in Rohtak.

-On May 11, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court convened a special summer session to deliberate upon the constitutionality of triple talaq. Six days later, it decided to reserve its verdict. However, the bench did ask the All India Muslim Personal Law Board whether a clause could be inserted in the nikahnama (marriage contract) that would prevent a husband from being able to use triple talaq. Muslim marriage is contractual, so the addition of such a clause will specify the nature of a woman’s consent to a marriage and thus possibly curb the use of triple talaq in the future. However, as Flavia Agnes says

“In any case […] the bride and her family have little, if any, say in wedding-related decisions. The nikahnama is usually drawn up by qazis affiliated to the Muslim law board and they hardly ever inform the bride of her right to negotiate the terms of her marriage.”

Thus, only time will tell what sort of judgement will now emerge from the apex court and how it will impact Muslim women.

Sports

-The Indian women’s cricket team is breaking worldwide records—Deepti Sharma and Poonam Raut became the first ever pair to score 300 runs in a One-Day International. Jhulan Goswami also made history when she became the highest wicket taker in women’s ODIs.

Popular Culture

-May has been a good month for female directors. DC Comics’ first ever female led superhero movie Wonder Woman hits select theatres at the end of this month, and will see worldwide release in June. It also happens to be the first major studio superhero movie directed by a female director, Patty Jenkins. Gina Prince-Bythewood will soon make history as the first woman of colour to direct a superhero film with Marvel Comic’s Silver and Black. The film itself is centred around two women ‘antiheroes’. Further, this month at the Cannes Film Festival, Sophia Coppola became the second woman ever to win the Best Director title for her film The Beguiled. The first woman to win this title, Yuliya Solntseva, received it over 56 years ago.

Tech

-Intel Social Business Ltd. and a Bangladeshi not for profit have created the COEL, a smart bangle that gives pregnant women audio cues like reminders regarding diet, vaccinations, cramps, etc. Rural women lack access to maternal healthcare facilities, and the COEL seeks to address that issue. COEL can also detect toxic carbon fumes originating from the use of charcoal, which can be harmful to the child and alert the mother. It’s being used in Bangladesh and will be distributed in Indian markets this year at the price of Rs 1000.

In Memoriam

-Earlier this month, Justice (retd) Leila Seth passed away. She was the first woman judge in the Delhi High Court, and the first woman to become a Chief Justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh). She was also responsible for progressive amendments to the Hindu Succession Act.

May at Zubaan:

-Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora?, our book on the 1991 mass rape of women from the Kashmiri villages of Kunan and Poshpora, by the Indian army, was awarded the Laadli Media prize for best non-fiction book. Co-written by five Kashmiri women, the book highlights the continuing legal (non-)consequences of the Indian state’s human rights abuses under AFSPA in Kashmir.

-In celebration of International Museum Day and in collaboration with the International Association for Women’s Museums, Zubaan participated in a worldwide social media campaign to promote women’s museums. We shared several posters from our Poster Women archive on Facebook and Twitter, which addressed various issues like dowry death, religion and domestic violence.

-We also announced our next Young Zubaan project, a comic book promoting menstrual health among young readers called Spreading Your Wings. Created by Ariana Abadian-Heifetz and illustrated by Pia Alizé Hazarika, it will have both Hindi and English editions. The author is currently accepting donations so that the cost of the book can be subsidized, making it affordable and able to reach as many beneficiaries as possible!

-On the 28th, Zubaan’s feminist book club discussed Kuzhali Manickavel’s Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings. If you were unable to attend but are interested to read it, you can pick up the book here. The next meeting is on the 25th of June and we’re reading Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva – if you’d like to join us, shoot us an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com)!

Happy reading, and May the force be with you!

On Topic: Feminist Waves through Different Mediums

April has been my favourite month since I was in school: the excitement of new class, the fragrance of the new books, covering new notebooks and so on. Let us look at the events and and voices that created impact in our feminist world last month.

Things begun with the news that India got its first transgender sub-inspector K. Prithika Yashini from Chennai, and her struggle also raised several LGBTQ issues of gender identity and social acceptance.

Lucknow embarked on its first #Pride on April 9, where we got to see trademark queer quirky messages alongside the rainbow flags and glitter. The month also witnessed another memorable moment for same-sex marriage in Punjab on 22nd April 2017, with enthusiasm and love.

From celebrating sexuality, fighting for gender identities, prejudices against and within the LGBTQ community boxing in the social construct, we witnessed a revolution against the patriarchal social construct and applause to all those never-ending voices against the oppression and violence.

The end of this month beheld the Kerala Trans Sports Meet in Trivandam on 28th April, 2017.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha' has been receiving worldwide recognition: the Hollywood Foreign Press picked the film, in early April, for the opening night screening at the International Film Festival, Los Angeles (making the movie eligible for the American Golden Globe awards), questioning the Censor Board for Film Certification's denying the film certification in India. Voices in support of the movie have led the censor board to reconsider their decision: the movie, certified 'A' with some voluntary cuts, will be released soon.

A charity from Argentina ‘MACMA’ came up with a clever way to avoid censorship: their video for breast cancer awareness called Everybody Loves Boobs sings the glories of breasts, with lips replacing nipples and with sarcasm towards censorship on social media.

Another crowd-funded documentary about arranged marriages in India ‘A Suitable Girl’ is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary took four years to complete and the women behind it organized and executed the project through an online fundraising campaign.

Since we are talking about the emerging voices against the oppression, we cannot miss the campaign Let’s Talk About Trolls by the Hindustan Times, fighting vicious misogyny and cyber violence on social media. HT published a series of articles featuring influential women who have been active on social media, in which they express their political views and talk about their experiences of online trolling. Meanwhile, this report via News Deeply states that the gender gap between women and men when it comes to using computers and the Internet is increasingly widening, an important issue when it comes to gender equality and basic rights.

In our last 'On Topic' post, we talked about how the tax on sanitary pads has been removed in Delhi. An online campaign by Youth ki Awaaz “#IAMNOTDOWN” talks about several issues surrounding menstruation, such as accessibility and affordability of sanitary napkins, as well as the social stigma around menstruation, which can have deadly consequences on young women's lives.

Reports say that India will have its first free condom stores for HIV prevention and awareness, brought about by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). Although the government currently provides affordable contraception to citizens, it is reported to be of low quality.

April also witnessed elections for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (the MCD). The Bhartiya Janta Party, which has been in control of the MCD for the last two terms (10 years), won the elections. Of 270 seats, 124 seats were been secured by women.

The United Nations on the 22nd of April made a surprising announcement as they elected Saudi Arabia to the women's rights commission. The 45 member body works towards promoting gender equality and empowerment of women worldwide.  According to The Independent there are several political reasons behind this decision. Several countries were questioned about the vote counts and their stands on the declaration. Saudi Arabia was already in the news the month before for holding its first “Girls Council”, with photos showing zero girls on stage.

Here at Zubaan:

Amidst the chaos of the renovation at Zubaan office inside and political parties campaigning outside, we managed a quick book club meeting discussing the internet phenomenon Worm. Next meeting: our very own Kuzhali Manickavel's Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings.

Prisoner No. 100 is back in stock. We bade farewell to our intern Sarah and everybody misses her (and her zucchini bread); our office manager Elsy is back stronger and more relaxed after a brief surgical battle, and you could maybe manage to get some discounts from her. So don’t forget to visit us, and happy reading!

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