In a society where sanitary pads are still double wrapped to avoid embarrassment and sex is a topic you are not supposed to mention, Ragini has taken it up upon herself to make sure that both the genders have a safe platform to learn about sexual health, awareness and about various topics we do not mention at the same time providing a safe space for discussion on all things taboo.
- Tell us what made you so passionate about talking and working for women empowerment, health and taboos?
My own negative experiences as a curious and confused adolescent eventually gave me the impetus to give the importance of sex education a serious consideration. I knew how it felt to not understand one’s bodily transition, to be ashamed of something as normal as vaginal discharges, to not have access to a non-judgmental safe space to talk about it.
When I started being vocal for the need for CSE that is Comprehensive Sexual Education on public platforms, many women reached out to me and I finally realized how I was not alone and this shame and stigma was a collective problem. It was not merely a personal experience, rather a social issue. I realized how “Personal is political” and asserting my rights as a human being is an act of resistance against an oppressive structure.
- Your online platform, My Vagina My Rights is going to complete two years this month. Tell us how you got the idea of starting it and little bit about your journey.
In a society which still considers open discussion on female sexual health as taboo, women often find themselves in a predicament and vulnerable to diseases and low self-esteem. In such a scenario, a comprehensive portal that discusses relevant women’s health issues openly and provides uncensored access to information is of paramount importance. Thus, with a mission to dislodge the stigmatization associated with the female anatomy and sexuality, I launched ‘My Vagina, My Rights’ on 2nd August, 2018. I wanted to put out medically-verified and evidence–based information on sexual health and menstrual hygiene in bite-sized, simplified form catered to a young online audience. In the last two years, women have come to us with a multitude of questions, thus proving that they go through a lot of confusion vis-a-vis their own bodies and sexuality .We have attended to their concerns with updated, de-stigmatized, effective information.
- Keeping in mind menstrual health, it has been seen that during the floods in Assam, sanitary hygiene has become a major concern. What do you think can be done to help improve this situation? Is there anything, we the public can do?
Definitely, we can. No matter how devastating a crisis is, menstruation doesn’t stop. With no access to sanitary products and toilets, menstrual health management becomes an uphill task.
We have the collective responsibility to hold the Government accountable for not considering period products essential items. We should pressurize the authorities to build better infrastructure like gender-segregated toilets in flood relief camps, to distribute sanitary products and clean water so that menstruators can bleed in dignity.
- Recently, you have taken an active participation in talking about revenge porn, which is not something many are aware of. What are some of the things that you would like the women and men out there to know about this? How careful are we supposed to be while interacting with people online?
Revenge porn refers to posting sexually explicit images or videos of a person on the Internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the person’s consent and in order to subject them to public shaming and embarrassment. In today’s smart phone generation, when cyberspace has become such an integral part of our lives, when ‘sexting’ has become the modern day form of foreplay, revenge porn is becoming a tool of choice for many in their quest for vengeance.
The victims of revenge porn, mostly women, are extremely vulnerable and the traumatic experience is psychologically damaging. Most victims even contemplate suicide.
As much as it is exciting for partners to digitally paint their fantasies and explore one another, I think one must refrain from sharing sexual imagery over the internet as much as possible because digital footprints are extremely difficult to erase. Once an image has been shared, you have no control over where it ends up. Many young victims are blackmailed to perform sexual favours or pay money.
To ensure your safety, make sure you don’t include your face or other identifiable features in the photos. Before sending, take some time to think if the recipient is really trustworthy.
If someone clicks your photos without your consent and publishes them online, approach the police and file a criminal complaint. Under IPC section 506 and other various sections of The Information and Technology Act like Section 66E and Section 67, the perpetrator can be punished.
- Time and again, you have stressed on the importance of understanding the female anatomy, breaking it down and destigmatizing it. What do you have to say about that?
Well, the objective behind naming the platform “MY VAGINA, MY RIGHTS’ was to remove the sexual connotation behind the word “Vagina”. Why is my vagina treated differently than my liver? Why is one anatomical term considered vulgar and the other normal? One doesn’t realise that there dominant forces at work that constrict women from using anatomically correct language. We throw in various euphemisms like ‘pussy’ ‘lady parts’. This obscurity seems irrational. Such restrictions not only lead women to internalise the taboo, it also conditions them to feel embarrassed about their bodies. The stigma restricts women from speaking up and seeking help for their sexual health issues. They don’t even feel confident visiting a gynecologist. This needs to change. The stigmatization needs to be dislodged, the taboos addressed and myths busted.
- Even today, we see very few schools which provide sex education and sex is still a very uncomfortable topic which hardly comes out at family dinner tables. Because of this, many teenagers turn to porn sites to enhance their knowledge and feed their curiosity. What can be the adverse affects of this?
I think obscuring information from children assuming they’ll never find out what sex means is quite funny and almost infuriating. It’s illogical because your sexuality is such an innate, natural part of you. You are bound to feel sexual urges, desire touch once reach your adolescence. Do you know babies masturbate? Yes, they do, Google it. Babies touch their genitals because it feels good. We are sexual beings.
When you don’t empower children with proper sex education, they are bound to look for an alternative source, which is always pornography. Porn is an incorrect representation of sex. It fuels a negative body image by making men believe that having an average-sized penis is shameful and unattractive, when male porn stars often get enhancement surgeries done and take endurance pills. Female porn stars often get labiaplasty (designer vulva, basically) and breast augmentation done and women feel their body parts are ugly because they don’t resemble what they see on screen. One rarely sees exchange of consent or usage of condoms. You’re actively misleading children by obscuring knowledge from them.
- What’s next for you and where do you see yourself going with this?
Sometimes I feel my advocacy is not intersectional as it exclusively caters to an English-speaking audience who has access to smart phones and internet. Hence, I am planning to team up with grass root community workers to conduct awareness campaigns in villages and tea garden areas. I am also currently working on making content available in Assamese to bridge the language barrier. But at the end of the day, it’s always about having uncomfortable conversations. I hope to continue talking about important things that make people feel queasy.