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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.


-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 the 28th of June, various Indian cities saw protests under the name of Not In My Name’ being held. The protests, although held in immediate response to the lynching of Junaid Khan, addressed the larger issues of militant nationalism and vigilante ‘beef lynchings’. While holding a protest like this was extremely important, people have voiced criticisms of the protest as well, in particular speaking out about the issue of the name of the protest, saying it’s like the “Indian upper-caste liberals’ version of #NotAllMen.

-In celebration of Pride Month, Chennai held its (9th) annual pride parade this June, and over a 100 people participated. People chanted slogans, dressed up in colourful clothes and handed out badges. A group of sex workers also joined the parade to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases.

-This month, the Indian Express started a new series called #GenderAnd, where through different articles and news pieces, it looked at the intersection of gender with other concepts like culture, the nation, and development, showing that gender isn’t something that can be looked at in isolation. The series includes articles on painting (gender and culture), corporate India (gender and business), trans rights (gender and the nation), and so on.

Popular Culture

-After a long struggle with the Indian Censor Board for certification, Lipstick Under My Burkha (which was initially supposed to release in October last year) will finally hit Indian theatres on the 21st of July. The film was earlier denied certification on the premise that it was too ‘lady oriented’. Balaji Motion Pictures announced the news with a bold and telling poster. Despite its release being stalled in India, the film has won numerous accolades abroad.

-Video Volunteers, a media and human rights NGO has a campaign called #KhelBadal, a video based campaign that tries to initiate conversations on different issues. This month, the campaign was called What’s In A Name, and talked about how many women all over the country are unable to address their husbands by the first name as it’s seen as a sign of disrespect. Not following this practice leads to social censure. Watch the video here.

Politics and Governance

-Chaya Kakde, accompanied by five other social workers from her women’s self-help organisation in Maharashtra, has been on a hunger strike since the 21st of June (as of 26 June 2017). Their demands include: removal of GST on sanitary napkins, making sanitary napkins available at ration shops, the providing of free sanitary napkins to women with uterus cancer, and the installment of sanitary pad vending machines in Maharashtra schools. They plan to move their protest to Jantar Mantar by June 30 if their demands are not met.

-Tamil Nadu is going to make the registration of pregnancies with the health department mandatory. Not completing such formalities could mean that the child will not get a birth certificate. The scheme, which will be implemented in July, is "[...] an ambitious project that attempts to bring down maternal and infant mortality rates by keeping a tab on every pregnant woman in the state," according to health secretary J Radhakrishnan.

However, this announcement does raise certain issues. As this article points out, the implementation of the scheme, especially in rural areas, will reduce the amount of time village nurses have to actually interact with pregnant women and educate them about health risks, as record keeping will begin to consume most of their times. Further, placing pregnant women under surveillance could make them feel conscious to avail of abortion services.

-A conference organized by the National Commission for Women in Chandigarh revealed that many women who married NRI men were being abandoned by their husbands, who after moving abroad without their wives, sent them divorce notices. This is a common occurrence, and to curb it, the Indian government is going to launch a web portal to help women who have been abandoned by men abroad.  This redressal system will aim at helping women register grievances regarding maintenance, divorce, and child support.

-The Haryana government will now allow married girl students in state universities and colleges to avail of maternity leave benefits of up to 45 days after submitting a valid medical certificate, effective from the upcoming academic session onwards. However, this only applies to married students, despite the fact that is it possible for unmarried women to get pregnant too!

-This month, the Punjab government decided to implement a number of progressive measures that will empower women in different spheres of their lives. Firstly, it increased the percentage of seats reserved for women in rural and urban local bodies from 33% to 50%. Further, it declared that education in government schools and colleges from the nursery to PhD level will be made free. The education reforms also include making textbooks more accessible and equipping classrooms with internet facilities.

-The Tamil Nadu government made education for transgender students free in the Manonmaniam Sundaranar University in Tirunelveli. Further, ‘meritorious students’ are to get an additional stipend of Rs. 3,000 per month. Over in Kerala, the State Literacy Mission, following a survey, decided on continuing its education programmes for transgender students who discontinued their education midway. The programmes started in early June, and are being held in different cities for both tenth grade and senior secondary levels.

It's heartening to see different state governments making progressive measures to empower different sections of the population. However, the large gap between announcement and implementation can make policies fail, even if they have the best of intentions.

For example—the Kochi Metro, this month, became the first government organization to employ transgender people, with 23 transgender people being hired as ground staff. However, within a week of the metro’s implementation, 8 of the employees quit, as people refused to rent houses/rooms to them because of their gender identity.

Undoubtedly, it’s extremely important for the policy formulation and implementation agencies to recognise that nothing takes place in a vacuum—the social context always needs to be taken into account, and structures need to be put into place to ensure that the policy can function smoothly on the ground.

-Women are allowed to hold positions in the medicinal, legal, and engineering branches of the Indian Army, but they cannot be placed in combat positions. However, this month, the Army Chief said that the Army was in talks with the government to open up combat roles to women, something very few countries worldwide have done. The chief further said that initially, women would be recruited in the military police, whose role involves maintaining movement of soldiers, handling prisoners of war, assisting the civil police, etc.

This, however, raises larger questions about whether we as feminists should be lauding the Army for taking this step.  This Firstpost article puts forward some pertinent points—“If the inherent nature of the army is violence, and if violence is something that is both incompatible with feminism and that has uniquely horrifying effects on women, what does it mean to enlist more women in such an organization? There’s a lot here to unpack before we throw a party celebrating women’s entry into this traditionally male field. We’re all for women facing better employment prospects, but do we really need them to be hired as agents of violence and the patriarchy?”

Legal Judgements

-The Uttarakhand High Court declared that courts throughout the state should hear acid attack cases on a daily basis, and ensure that such trials conclude within three months. The court also announced that a compensation of Rs 1 lakh should be paid to acid attacks victims by the state after the filing of an FIR. It also ordered the state government to provide protection to eye-witnesses during the trial.


-The ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup commenced this month, and our cricket team emerged victorious from their first match, where they beat England by 35 runs.

-Pro-wrestler Kavita Dalal has been selected for the WWE’s 32-competitor Women’s Tournament, The Mae Young Classic.


-Following company research that revealed that many Indian women don’t set profile pictures of their faces out of fear that their pictures will be misused, Facebook is now rolling out a new feature in India called profile picture guard. Activating the feature means the following: others cannot download, share or send your profile picture in a message on Facebook, and Android users will be unable to take screenshots of your profile picture. However, screenshots still can be taken from other devices.

June at Zubaan

-After five long years, we sent out a new and improved version of our e-newsletter to our subscribers! If you’re interested in being up to date about Zubaan’s new releases, activities and projects, make sure you sign up for the (monthly) newsletter here.

-This month has also been dedicated to putting the finishing touches on our e-Essays project, due to launch next month. This project is going to ‘unbundle’ content by making select essays from anthologies available in e-formats for a reasonable fee. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter, keep your eyes peeled for the e-Essays mailer, coming to your inbox soon.

-On the 25th, Zubaan’s feminist book club discussed Amruta Patil’s Adi Parva. If you were unable to attend but are interested to read it, pick up the book here. Also, if you’d like to know when the next meeting is, don’t hesitate to shoot us an email (contact@zubaanbooks.com).

-This month on the blog, we featured two excerpts from our title Watercolours: A Story from Auschwitz by Lidia Ostałowska, translated from Polish by Sean Gasper Bye. Watercolours is the story of artist Dina Gottliebová-Babbitt and how she survived Auschwitz. In the words of S.G Bye:

 Lidia Ostałowska’s telling of this powerful story interweaves Dina’s life with the history of the camp both during and after the war, tracking how cultural memory of the Holocaust has evolved over the last half-century in Europe, America and Israel. She also poses challenging questions about art and morality. If art is used in service of genocide, is it still art? What are the artist’s duties under such circumstances? And to whom does the artist’s work belong—to the artist? The victims? To humanity?

That’s it for June, but On Topic will be back next month with more feminist news, so see you soon!

(PS: for daily feminist news updates, follow us on Twitter!)


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