War and Menstruation

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Often, the deepest casualties of war are the ones that don’t find words. Silenced, we believe they don’t exist, as they surreptitiously mock human rights, etching stains forever.

Menstruation.

Imagine your fifteen year old self (yes, men too). Idealism, passion and dreams of the future. You were probably studying in a school, with fans at least and single gender bathrooms, with latches and running water. You probably had a group of friends and evenings suffuse with hygienic food and warm sleep. You probably also took shots of all the essential vaccinations and had a medical store around the corner of your home.

What would your fifteen-year-old self, do, stuck in a refugee camp with the chill of the night befalling you as you try to breathe in a cramped tent? What would your fifteen years old self, do, if you had no school to teach you what menstruation is, no family to explain why you were bleeding and no running water? What would your fifteen years old self, do, when the people around ostracised you because you were bleeding (it’s not even under one’s control, damn it!) and stared at you as you silently walked around in stained, smelly clothes with painful infections flourishing in your vaginal areas?

According to a study conducted by Global One in displacement camps in Syria and Lebanon, 60% of the female refugees did not have access to underwear and a greater proportion had no access to sanitary napkins.

However, what augments this problem for female refugees is lack of access to clean toilets and of privacy. Refugee girls in Lebanon described the toilets as cramped and dirty and said that they preferred to change their menstrual material in their shelters, though shelters provided no privacy.

“The walls that make the tents and separate them are normally just blankets, plastic sheeting and transparent”, said one adolescent girl from Lebanon. “Someone from outside can see you in there.”

Often, puberty is a confusing phase of life. As a child, I remember how I always had my mother to look up to for explanations about the physical and emotional turmoil that I was experiencing when I reached puberty

A thirteen-year-old child, who just lost her family in an air-strike, stuck in an underground loft with a group of strangers. Who will she look up to when she gets her first period?

A fifteen-year-old is on a fierce journey through the sea in the hope to salvage her life. She gets her first period. Without food and water, in a ship crammed with people on a rocky sea, how will she deal with it?

When Sarah started menstruating in Egypt during the months-long journey that would take her from Eritrea to Britain, she had to use “toilet paper, tissue, anything” to soak up the blood. She was preparing to make the journey across the Mediterranean from Egypt to Italy and did not have access to sanitary products. “You’re travelling with a small bag, an empty bag because when you go to the boat, they ask you to make it lighter.”

Her periods make her vulnerable. They become her vulnerability. Where do these vulnerabilities find respite?

In the numerous superstitions and customs associated with menstruation.

Out of school and barely surviving, young girls and women have no access to information about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. The consequences of which are low self-esteem, shame and an abode for numerous severe health conditions.

“You must dry your underwear and pads in secret. People may steal it for witchcraft. This can cause you infertility”  

                                – A refugee woman

“Sometimes I go and tell the teacher because many times when we alert them they hide, or sit in one place for hours,” he says, adding that the rest of the pupils distance themselves from girls who are menstruating.

                                – 14-year old Robert Anyanjo in a refugee school.

The taboo and the superstitions associated with this monthly phenomenon puts girls and women in physical danger. The shame associated with periods implies that a woman has to travel to secluded areas of the camp in the dark to dispose off or to change her sanitary napkin, due to lack of disposal facilities and toilets. This, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to physical assault and again, they have nobody to look up to for justice due to the silence and shame associated with a woman’s virginity and honour.

Don’t forget, they have to deal with this every month.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Several organizations, such as the United Nations, are trying to deliver sanitation kits to provide women access to sanitary napkins. However, these are usually not enough and often women are ashamed to collect sanitary napkins from the organizations distributing them due to the fear of being mocked on and laughed at. Further, the problem runs deeper than merely the lack of access to sanitary napkins. The lack of water and safe toilets, make it difficult for refugee women to use sanitary napkins even if they are available. The taboo and shame associated with this natural process, make it difficult for them to talk about the stress, pain and health issues that they are facing. The lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene and about the entire process of periods in general, make this natural phenomenon a horrifying experience of millions of refugee women every month.

Yet it leaves no stains in the entire debate about the refugee crisis.

It is important to realise the magnitude of this problem. Lack of education about menstruation and hygiene implies that several generations of women will continue to feel ashamed about their body and their period, several generations of women will be taught to remain silent about their needs and difficulties, several generations of women will be taught to feel disempowered and weak. Often, the issue of menstruation is ignored when we talk about refugees because it’s not about life or death. However, if we look at their survival as being different from their empowerment, will this crisis ever see an end?

Sara Sethia is a Research Associate (Gender Justice) at One Future Collective.

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Why Should We Protect our Digital Identities?

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The World Bank has defined Digital Identity as a collection of electronically captured and stored identity attributes that uniquely describe a person within a given context and are used for electronic transactions. Traditionally, a physical identity was assigned to an individual/entity in the form of ID-cards, ration cards, driver’s license, etc to facilitate movement of people, goods and services, funds and other resources. This ensured that an individual/ entity is who/what they claimed to be. With technological progressions, identity was digitised as interactions and transactions advanced to the digital medium through internet and computers. To adapt to this, attributes such as biometric details, phone numbers and social security numbers were electronically encoded to allow the identification of an individual or an entity in the world of internet.

Digital identity has had a significant effect on almost every sector and industry in the global economy. It has created transparency, traceability and coherence in the functioning of the economic order. Since it is easier to identify individuals within and across borders, governments can effectively provide welfare services, entities and individuals can promptly carry out financial transactions and people can undertake cross-border travels with lower risks.

Social inclusion is the effective outcome of having digitised identity systems. While infrastructure for digital identity are in place in most of the developed countries such as US, Canada and Europe, India launched the Aadhar card, in the largest identity program in 2016. The program aims to assign a vast majority of its population a unique nationally accepted identification and allow them easy access to certain essential services such as cooking gas, water connections, healthcare etc.

Digital identity has also evolved paperless transactions and streamlined business processes by simplifying identity authentication which earlier obstructed cross border trade and transfer of resources. Moreover, debit and credit cards, one click mobile payments has upped the performance of the financial sector.

Along the lines of verification, digital identity has ensured secured travel for legitimate travelers and further enhanced the travel industry. It has largely controlled travel threats which emerge from militant activities, civil wars, insurgencies and terrorism.

 

 

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

Another kind of digital identity was created when social media took over almost two generations under its wings with the advent of smartphones. With the ubiquitous nature of the cyberworld it has been impossible to stay aloof of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, WeChat, Weibo, Renren and even LinkedIn to connect and interact worldwide. This identity is shaped by the online behaviour through interactions, clicks, games, purchases and searches.

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While we physically owned our ID-cards in the past and used it at our discretion for face-to-face authentication, the digitisation of identity managed to loosen this control. At every point of consent, we click “I agree” and place our private information in the hands of the service providers including the financial institutions, governments and private players such as social media companies, merchants, media application developers, various payment points etc. While a certain trust in the governments exists underlying the commitment to a social contract and their permanence, the use and store of our data encoded under a digitised identity remains ambiguous. Furthermore, we share private data across social media conversations, and believe that the information we provide at the time of signing up for these services is harmless — a fair trade for free use.  However, virtual world activities have influenced more than just consumerist behaviour.

There are several instances which highlight that private information was leaked by compromising the security of digital identity systems. Snowden’s disclosures on NSA spying, Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers, the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Congress’s servers, the possible plundering of 500 million Yahoo accounts, the Aadhaar biometrics data breaches are developments that demonstrate that laws have unfortunately not kept pace with the technological developments. Another significant incident that stoked the data protection debate was the recent data breach at Facebook in the Cambridge Analytica incident, reportedly influenced the voting behaviour of hundreds of Americans in favour of the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. It is imperative to understand that digital identity entails majority of the risks that a physical identity card would.

[mkdf_blockquote text=”The lack of legislation to protect digital identity systems and punish the violators renders us vulnerable to identity thefts, illegal transactions, cyber bullying, cyber-attacks, and even unlawful surveillance.” title_tag=”h2″ width=””]

With the use of digital technologies across the world at an all-time high, and internet connectivity to reach over 200 billion devices to the internet by 2020, the vulnerabilities remain significant.

Amidst this, European Union recently implemented the “General Data Protection Regulation” to empower individuals with the rights to demand companies reveal or delete the personal data they hold. It has brought under its ambit almost every company that holds and processes consumer data and further inform the consumer what they are “blindly” consenting to.

Although this law extends itself over a vast area of jurisdiction, until other states implement the relevant legislations and build secured infrastructures, the risks to digital identity will persist. Individually, we can only secure ourselves by making informed choices about consenting to the varied services that the digital world offers.

Shivani Gayakwad is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective and a researcher for Compliance, Forensics and Intelligence at Control Risks India. She has expertise in South Asian politics and interest in women’s menstrual health and financial independence.

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“Do I Look Good Enough in this Picture?” – Selfies, Social Media and Mental Health

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‘Selfitis’ is not a real disease, but the mental health aspects surrounding selfies are not to be taken lightly. 

Selfie, a word that made its way to become the word of the year in 2013, as described by the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media” by the same. The obsession with self-portrait photographs which initially began as a trend among the youth quickly gained wider popularity among all age groups. However, a survey found that selfies make up 30% of the photos taken by people aged 18-24 years.

Much of its popularity was attributed to the ease and speed with which photos of oneself could now be taken without the need for mirrors or help from others. The sharp rise in selfie usage was approximately 17000% from 2012 to 2015, which lead to the discovery of the evidence of direct relationships between selfies and self-esteem, self-image, and even narcissism. This created a stir, giving rise to arguments against considering the obsession with selfies as a mental disorder which was aggravated by a hoax created by a parody APA website which stated that obsession with clicking selfies is confirmed to be a mental disorder called “Selfitis”.

It seemed to have taken much of this world by surprise to know that an act of clicking photos of oneself had become a global phenomenon but the sudden importance given to selfies has been supported by accidents, injuries and deaths that have occurred to individuals while in the act. Such recklessness caused by the act of taking selfies has only worsened the negative attention surrounding it. Due to a series of such events and discussions steered by its popularity, intensive research has been made on a variety of topics regarding selfies ranging from the use and gratification of posting them on social media to even calculating the different angles at which they are captured! Few reasons that people click selfies include boredom, to boost self-esteem, to enjoy the perks of social media or to grab others’ attention.

Some people even feel that posting selfies online helps them validate their existence, a reason that blends with the concept of low self-confidence as posting selfies online may end up augmenting their personal insecurities. Obsession with selfies also has biological evidence. Studies have shown an increase in dopamine levels while receiving feedback information from others and behaviors relating to selfie-taking like uploading content online has been strongly related to activities in the sympathetic nervous system. This enhances social communication which when lost eventually will lead to loneliness. Selfies and loneliness have been correlated multiple times with studies that point out to those participants who post more selfies while scoring low on intimacy measures. This directly contradicts the central idea of social media which was initially aimed at building rapport with each other and not decreasing intimacy in relationships.

The interplay between selfies and social media has been an interesting one, highlighting various human characteristics and behaviours. The definition of a selfie does not limit itself to the mere act of people creating a self-portrait but also the critical aspect of sharing the selfie on social media. Uploading selfies on social media provide the most ideal platform for people to portray themselves in a desired manner which will not heighten their social anxiety but will dampen their fear of embarrassment. Digital media, the future of communication, is now being extensively used for information as well as entertainment and hence it has a wide user base. Social media enables us to transmit selfies to virtual locations via hashtags but many argue that hashtags can act as constraints because we end up describing ourselves as metadata.

 

Photo by Bruno Gomiero on Unsplash

Different modes of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and the most popular selfie destinations – Snapchat and Instagram, help selfie uploaders have access to the opinions, judgments and appraisals of other individuals which in turn provide an opportunity to the uploaders to develop their self-image and identities. This idea correlates with the psychological concept of the “looking glass self” which suggests that we develop our sense of the self based on the perceptions of those we interact with. The frailty of this practice is that the youth especially, have begun to feel that their best, singled out selfie is the perfect representation of their online selves. Over a period of time, they become indifferent to the fact that they are actually looking at themselves while viewing their selfies and in this process, end up creating multiple versions of themselves. They also fall a prey to the temptation of manipulating their selfies by using “filters” that accentuate our desired features. They have the liberty to tweak their content to their liking so as to remain consistent with this self and end up creating a separate identity or identities that contradict with their real self in this process. This is the image with which they want to identify and strive to become eventually.

Immediate responses and reactions to selfies on social media lead people to crave more of others’ approval and this sort of validation strengthens our perceptions of our physical attractiveness. Social media also helps us to view selfies uploaded by others which may put us in a competitive position, trying to over-compare ourselves with others to be noticed, appreciated, and recognized. Such a process can lead to the feeling of immediate empowerment on behalf of the individual but this can become a never-ending habit of fishing for reassurance in the pressure to maintain a certain number of “likes” and comments on their selfies. But selfies on social media can also make us appreciate our sense of self and increase our self-esteem, encouraging a positive outlook and attitude. Fixation and an unhealthy obsession with social media are what will lead to the depreciation of our mental state regarding our self-image.

The most common people who fall a victim to this happen to be teenagers and young adults, who for the most part are millennials. A generation that is keen on exploring the technological revolution may not necessarily be tagged as self-centered in haste. In an attempt to be self-empowered, millennials explain their over-use of social media and selfies as a technique to portray themselves positively. The idea behind this may also be to shatter the illusions of an overly demanding society that is filled with expectations of idealistic body images and instead display their imperfections as a form of art through self-portraits. With their lives rooted in a digital world, it shouldn’t be surprising to witness millennials using the internet in different ways to manifest their thoughts and ideas, even if it is in the form of selfies. It may be understandable if millennials find common ground in such expression and are able to relate to one another or even understand and accept differences without friction. Millennials have always agreed upon the use of technology to be progressive and any form of communication to be ultimately productive.

This begs the final question – is an obsession with taking selfies classified as a mental disorder? The answer is – no. Despite the rumors in the past, “selfie addiction” is not a criterion listed in the DSM but it can be problematic if taking numerous selfies helps to feed pre-existing narcissistic tendencies in an individual and an obsession with clicking selfies can occur as a comorbidity to other mental disorders. There have been speculations regarding the future of selfie addictions being considered as a psychological disorder but as of today, it is fairly unlikely.

Shruti Venkatesh is the National Co-Lead (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.

References-

Charoensukmongkol, P. (2016). Exploring personal characteristics associated with selfie-liking.Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 10(2), article 7.

Diefenbach, S., & Christoforakos, L. (2017). The Selfie Paradox: Nobody Seems to Like Them Yet Everyone Has Reasons to Take Them. An Exploration of Psychological Functions of Selfies in Self-Presentation.Frontiers in Psychology,8, 7.

Hughes, L. (2018, April 04). For People With Social Anxiety, The Internet Is A Blessing And A Curse. Huffpost.

Jarrett, C. (2017, November 17). Millennials are narcissistic? The evidence is not so simple. Future.

Khanna, A., & Sharma, M. K. (2017). Selfie use: The implications for psychopathology expression of body dysmorphic disorder.Industrial Psychiatry Journal,26(1), 106–109.

Saroshe, Satish. (2016). Assessment of Selfie Syndrome among the Professional Students of a Cosmopolitan City of Central India: A Cross-sectional Study. International Journal of Preventive and Public Health Sciences (IJPPHS). 2. 1-4. 10.17354/ijpphs/2016/25.

Seiter, C. (2016, August 10). The Psychology of Social Media: Why We Like, Comment, and Share Online.Buffer Social.

Tatomirovic, T. (2018, March 30). Selfie: It is not a novelty in the human desire for (self-) expression. Thrive Global.

The Allure of the Selfie. (2014, October). Network Notebooks 08.

Whitbourne, S. (2016, August 27). Are Selfie-Takers Really Narcissists? Psychology Today.

 

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Queer Infocus | July 2020

The Beginning, Middle and End: A Tryst with Depression