Mental Health and Work

1

On 25th February 2022, One Future Collective hosted a live session on ‘Mental Health and Work’; the session was moderated by Subhiksha, Program Officer at One Future Collective. Subhiksha was joined by Vandita, an aspiring mental health professional, and Anannya, the founder of Metta Foundation and a social worker. The discussion focused on how workplaces deal with employees’ mental health and mental health effects on individuals in their workspace. 

 

The discussion started with a discussion on why very few young Indians feel that a person with mental health issues should reach out to a qualified professional for help. Anannya pointed out how the privileged people in the Gen-Z age group can easily talk about mental health since social media has destigmatized the concept. However, the same privilege is not enjoyed by the young people from marginalized groups who lack access to technology and bear the brunt of stigma as the people in their immediate environment do not provide empathetic support. She mentioned that even though technology has become more service-oriented and efficient, a considerable barrier still hinders access. Vandita agreed that a conversation on mental health could not happen without acknowledging the privilege of who can talk about their mental health.

 

The second discussion looked at the new Budget, which promised to start a government scheme for providing quality mental health support. Vandita mentioned how even starting such a scheme in the Union budget was a positive step in the right direction. She also felt that this would increase public awareness and recognition, especially in older demographics. She also thought it was important for such a scheme to exist beyond the scope and duration of the pandemic. She pointed out how the same government had once spread leaflets promoting yoga and meditation to answer mental health issues, excluding many people who struggled to meet their daily needs. 

 

Next, Subhiksha raised how very few policies or articles explicitly address mental health and how to address such silence. Vandita suggested structural adjustments and required changes to integrate the issue of mental health into different policies, including educational or workplace policies. In a context where the mental health cost in India amounts to 3.5% of its GDP, Subhiksha raised a question of how smaller organizations could work towards making a workspace that is mindful of employees’ mental health issues. To this, Vandita pointed out the need for organizations to look after the mental health of the individuals for their holistic wellness rather than hoping that they would become more productive. She also pointed out the need for higher authorities or Human Resource departments to be sensitized, understanding, and safe towards employees. Anannya agreed on how mental health issues have become more pronounced during Covid-19 and how that shows the need for a robust and effective mental health system. She spoke about the need for creating psychologically safe spaces in both formal and informal workspaces. The conversation should include drivers, cooks, and domestic workers who work in households. Even though mental health days can be beneficial, it is still quite scary for a person to take advantage of them since it means the risk of exposure, further shame, and stigma. She emphasized how workspaces are generally not built for neurodivergent folks and how ‘sick days’ and ‘mental health days’ are essentially different for them. For Anannya, it then becomes essential to have neurodivergent people in leadership positions who would understand that mental health is a vast spectrum. 

 

The discussion then turned to how mental health issues can affect an individual’s workspace. Anannya shared her own experiences to show how neurodivergent was not just an experience but part of her identity and lifestyle and affected her workspace. Vandita questioned the entire concept of work-life balance and how most people feel afraid to bring up their mental health issues in the workspace out of fear of termination. To teach such a culture of sensitivity and awareness, Vandita pointed out the need for adding mental health to school and college curricula to create safer workspaces in the future. The discussion ended with talking about how more insurance policies should cover cognitive health-related costs.

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

Pride with OFC, 2022

Who decides what queerness looks like?

Who decides what queerness looks like?

Gender Justice in the Pandemic

1

On 22nd  February 2022, One Future Collective hosted an IG Live on the theme of ‘Gender Justice in the Pandemic’ hosted by Advocate Sonali Shelar. She was joined by Kashina, assistant director at Prerana who heads the Anti-Trafficking Interventions; Kanksshi who is the founder of NETRI foundation; and Ayushi who is the co-founder of The Gender Lab. The conversation provides unique insights into how different on-ground activists and workers who deal with the issue of gender closely faced the challenge of the pandemic. 

 

The conversation started with a critical look at the economy of India and how it has one of the worst gender gaps in economic participation and opportunity according to a study by the World Economic Forum. To that, Kanksshi added that women’s participation in the economic and political sphere has always been low in India. She also pointed out how most quantitative studies miss the perspective of counting per capita income and do not account for women’s work that is not in the organized, formal sector. She raised questions about how India could have the aspirational idea of becoming a $5 trillion economy when 50% of its population is not considered to be working. She also added that most of these statistical measures and data did not account for irregular or seasonal work or work which was disrupted due to maternal or health factors. 

 

Ayushi added that during the pandemic, the distinction between men and women became more pronounced regarding who goes to work and who stays at home. Women had to engage in increased unpaid care work during this time. Even outside their homes, they had to work as ASHA workers in a gendered role. She mentioned that there is a need to incentivize women to work rather than simply creating jobs – the entire mindset surrounding women and work had to be changed.  

 

Kashina, speaking from her own experience at Prerna, spoke of the number of families in Maharashtra who lost a male member due to Covid-19. As a result, the women of the families were forced to enter the job market and were desperate enough to join any job to sustain their families. Thus, they required upskilling and adequate training to become employable rather than relying on the monthly assistance scheme by the government. She mentioned how the process for procuring the financial assistance was long-drawn and not sustainable in the long run. 

 

The conversation then turned to how women’s participation in governance processes (such as in the Panchayat) can create a difference in their lives. Ayushi spoke about how the community or the school should create a space for adolescent girls to allow them to place their opinion to bring change. Providing these girls with a platform and allowing them to exercise leadership can counter harmful patriarchal narratives about how their voices don’t matter. Kanksshi added on to that citing a study where communities with women-led MLAs had a better administrative experience. She spoke of women MLAs from Bihar and Telangana who had a strong system to help the people from their constituency during the pandemic. These MLAs physically ensured that rations were sent out and that the ration kits also had sanitary napkins in them – a necessity that is often forgotten. 

 

The next topic of the conversation was the effect of the pandemic on young girls’ and women’s lives in the context of human trafficking. Kashina spoke of how human trafficking for sexual exploitation is a disguised action with intergenerational support. During the pandemic, the families living in margins became even more vulnerable and the number of child marriages increased. The children who were rehabilitated became vulnerable again and there was also a stark lack of data. 

 

Then, the conversation turned to how The Gender Lab has been coming up with creative solutions to help young girls even as the schools were shut. Ayushi emphasized that listening to the invisible voices was important for figuring out the solution. Many of the young girls had mental health concerns, fear of child marriage, and abuse or violence. A lot of girls also left school to attend unpaid care work at home as they were also worried about the financial situation of their household. Ayushi mentioned how The Gender Lab focused on preventive work rather than immediate response work. They created a workbook for the girls named ‘My Safe Space’ through which they could feel that they are cared for and should not accept reality as it is. Kanksshi stressed that policy-makers must hear the voices of young girls too to make a more inclusive policy that benefits them. 

 

The conversation ended with a short discussion on the ongoing judgments about marital rape and the participants hoped that the One-Stop Centre scheme would become powerful enough to help women quickly. They also stressed the importance of increasing awareness about laws, policies, and programs, especially among marginalized women.

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

Pride with OFC, 2022

Who decides what queerness looks like?

Who decides what queerness looks like?

Education Justice in the Pandemic

1

On 15th February, One Future Collective hosted a live session on ‘Education Justice in the Pandemic’. Mrinalini, an educator at the ClayLabs Education Foundation coordinated the session with discussants Manvi, co-founder of Alokit; Drashti from Slam Out Loud; and Tarusha, an action researcher at HumanQind. The session aimed to understand the impact of the pandemic on the education sector from on-ground activists and social workers involved in the field. The session also critically looked at the gaps in policies that address inequality in access to education.

 

The IG live began with discussing the effects of COVID-19 on the education sector and how students, teachers, and educators have been deeply impacted. Mrinalini set the context with statistical facts and data about education inequality worldwide, including India, where 45% of the students drop out before pursuing higher education. As education was never envisaged to be imparted over a laptop or through the virtual medium, Mrinalini asked each speaker about their own experience of adapting to the pandemic. 

 

Manvi mentioned how ‘Alokit’ shifted to providing help to the teachers and principals and came up with customized needs-based programs to help educators become familiar with online modes of learning and teaching. Drashti, as a part of Slam Out Loud, admitted that the onset of the pandemic was a confusing and challenging time in the country, especially since education wasn’t a priority. However, they noticed different organizations collaborating to ensure children’s basic needs and provide access to necessary devices for online learning. Their organization made a curriculum that was accessible even through WhatsApp and set in a checking system with students to ensure their well-being. Tarusha spoke of how HumanQind aimed to share power with young children and involved them in decision-making. HumanQind assisted the schools with reopening and gave the young children a platform to voice their opinions. During their work, they witnessed how the entire school ecosystem was in severe mental distress, with teachers and principals facing burnout and fatigue. 

 

The speakers then discussed their learnings from the pandemic. Drashti shared how children weren’t as interested in academic writing practices but responded very well to art-based activities like theatre, storytelling, or poetry. The children also found it challenging to interact freely or collaborate in social groups as they were isolated for a long time. Thus, Slam Out Loud had to tap into the socio-emotional reserves of the children along with all the resources they had on hand. 

 

Tarusha also agreed with how children no longer had a fixed routine to pay attention to and how they were losing friends due to online schooling. They talked about the importance of creating trust-building and partnerships inside the school and adopting a collaborative approach towards school reopening. Manvi added the importance of teaching students to cope with stressful situations and focusing on their well-being. 

 

The conversation then turned to how each of the speakers addressed the learning loss resulting from the pandemic and the challenges they faced while the students were integrating back into the school system. Manvi emphasized that even before focusing on addressing the learning loss and finishing the syllabi, the students should be allowed a short period to settle in at their own pace. They suggested conducting a baseline assessment to understand the learning loss that the children had suffered. According to them, schools should focus on the well-being of the students and adopt a level-based teaching method. Drashti spoke of how their organization’s primary aim was to prevent dropouts due to the pandemic. Slam Out Loud also focused on increasing children’s socio-emotional skills and teaching academic syllabi. Tarusha further elaborated on HumanQind’s ‘Crosswalk’ program, where children were a part of the designing and planning team to bring changes to the school ecosystem. 

 

The last question in the session focused on policy suggestions to develop the education sector to make it more accessible and inclusive. Manvi recommended that all stakeholders be prepared for a blended mode of learning for the future, whereby governments would support students for online learning in case of any similar scenario. Tarusha added that the students’ voices should be heard during policy and decision-making and schools’ decision making. Drashti also agreed on the need to make education more inclusive to cater to the needs of different children and to look after the socio-emotional development and well-being of the students. 

 

Find the full Instagram Live session here 

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

Pride with OFC, 2022

Who decides what queerness looks like?

Who decides what queerness looks like?