Monday, August 3, 2020


A relook at common wisdom



Image Source: Google

Breast milk invigorates and nourishes the newborn like nothing else. It’s the baby’s first food, ensuring good health right into adulthood. Not surprisingly, almost every Bollywood hunk has sworn to the goodness of ‘Ma ka doodh’ on screen.

Successful breast feeding is the rich dividend following investment in the form of prenatal counselling, good preparation, a positive attitude, institutional and government policies and time.

‘Breast is the best’ and we need lactation friendly facilities even in public spaces. But there can be exceptions. The dictum, that all mothers should feed all babies, exclusively for six months, needs to be looked at again. Some special situations need to be factored in.

Such blanket advice overlooks the physical, social and economic constraints of the mother. Ignorance or unwillingness to try hard enough aren’t the only reasons why a mother gives up breastfeeding. Many mothers need to get back to education/earning due to socioeconomic reasons. A six month sabbatical may not be affordable. If the cost of time invested, cost of giving up a job, refusing a promotion or a raise, is factored in, we will realize that breastfeeding isn’t cheap and certainly not free.

Over glorification of breastfeeding can create guilt in the minds of women forced to give it up. Such mothers need positive support without guilt and judgment. Of course it is the mother's duty to feed the newborn but then it is the father's duty as well. It’s the responsibility of the family too. In fact just as not procreating is a personal choice, not breastfeeding can be a valid personal choice and needs to be respected.

Low birth weight and preterm babies can accept only small aliquots of milk. They may not be able to cry aloud and are too weak to latch effectively and suckle vigorously. They need to be fed every hour or two, for the first three to four months. This leads to sleep deprivation and a lot of other physical and psychological challenges. In such situations, milk substitutes under medical supervision, may be given a thought. Insisting on exclusive breastfeeding can be counterproductive. The baby needs to be well fed and well-nourished; the source matters little in the face of such adverse conditions.

Babies larger than expected, especially those born to diabetic mothers, become too hungry, too soon. They may need supplement, till lactation is properly established.

Even normal babies often suffer hunger, for lactation is not well established in the first few days of life. The standard medical response to this is; ‘in the first few days of life, all that is secreted is all that the baby requires’.

However hunger in the early days of life can be life threatening. Emergency NICU admission with intravenous glucose may become necessary. Long term neurological consequences of unrecognized low blood sugar can be disastrous. Hunger leads to excessive crying, lethargy, dehydration, convulsions, very low blood sugar and even sudden death.  

The mother is exhausted after labor and readily breaks into tears when she realizes that she is failing to feed the child. This inferiority complex and accompanying anxiety leads to reduced milk flow. Elderly mothers, comorbidities, cesarean section, a baby girl when a boy was expected; are stressful enough. A wailing toddler due to failed lactation is the last thing one would want. Lactation doesn't happen instantaneously. Suckling happens to be the strongest stimulus but suckling the child every two hours is easier said than done. Delayed onset of lactation is neither the mother’s fault nor the baby’s.

Traditionally such problems have been tackled with wet nurses, cow’s milk etc. Since milk powder is sterile and has known constituents in known proportion that closely match the composition of human milk, it’s preferred over animal milk. Some cities now boast of milk banks, which is a good option too.

Breastfeeding is the obvious choice between sumptuous feeds and milk substitutes. However between reconstituted milk powder and emergency intravenous glucose; milk powder is obviously the better choice. Substitutes create problems because of improper reconstitution and unsafe water. We've made a lot of progress as far as safe drinking water is concerned. A properly constituted and safely prepared powdered milk is a good option. It is important to see that the baby is adequately and safely fed till the time lactation is well established. Once that happens, top feeds should be stopped forthwith.

Policies supporting milk substitute appeasing the market forces and abetting profiteering are bad but milk substitutes aren’t bad by themselves. Milk and milk substitute should be used judiciously according to their wishes needs and abilities off the mother and her family.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Laadli Celebrates the Power of Theatre

Swathi Chaganty

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” ― Oscar Wilde

This could not be further from the truth for us at Population First, for arts and theatre are some of the core tools of our outreach. Be it street plays in collaboration with Theatre of Relevance or college productions across the city of Mumbai on gender-based issues, school plays on sanitation in Shahapur Zilla Parishads or theatre workshops for our village level committees and health service providers in the past, have deeply affected the audience and the participants alike. For some, the plays left an indelible mark on the current state of affairs in the society while for some the art of acting and theatre as a tool helped understand their own role in the society and its development.

So, it was only logical progression for us to honour the art form itself in our Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity (LMAAGS).

And as the world celebrates this art form today, we thought of taking a trip down the memory lane, when Theatre became one of our major categories at the National LMAAGS.

Saat Teri Ekvees
In its 3rd season, Saat Teri Ekvees, a Manhar Gadhia Productions, has a new set of monlogues by women and has an underlying theme of “desire”. It explores narratives on Survival, Intimacy, Being Oneself, Motherhood, Love, To Be Born and Appreciation. Some stories evoke heart-warming smiles, others evoke a soul-searching silence but all makes one sit-up and notice a woman’s soul and situations. The play deals with women characters that have shown strength and courage to establish their individuality in an unsupportive social structure.

Shinkhandi – The Story of the In-Betweens
A comic, tongue-in-cheek, re-telling of the story of Shinkhandi; mixing the traditional with the contemporary, the grandeur of physical Indian storytelling and contemporary English verse – questioning gender, sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and everything in between. This unique perspective and the conversational style of the play motivates the audience to examine their own biases and realise the futility of the labels that society enforces.

Ila by The Patchworks Ensemble
Directed by Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid, ‘Ila’, looks at gender, its related myths as well as the dilemmas and the importance they play in our lives today. The story is about a king who ventures into an enchanted forest and is transformed by a spell. As the moon waxes and wanes so does Ila, turning from man to woman and back to man. With ever-changing landscapes sometimes in ancient land and sometimes in the local trains of Mumbai- and leaps in time, his chorus takes the audience through a provocative, playful and exciting journey that questions what it means to “be a women/man and everything in between.”

Jug Jug Jiyo
An innovative play in Hinglish, Jug Jug Jiyo, directed by Smita Bharti, unravels the lives of two women across three decades, who are sharing a house in a small town. The play begins with the visit of their children who are in a live-in-relationship in Mumbai to their home town to meet their parents. The new dynamic in the family leads to a small confrontation and lays bare the hidden past of the two women until there is nothing left to lay bare. The story intimately journeys through hard hitting topics of social stigma of unmarried and pregnant women, marital rape, female foeticide, infanticide, trafficking and illegal surrogacy. Jug Jug Jiyo is an entertaining yet socially relevant play that compels one to think of the many messages it wants to deliver. It ends with love and hope that change is possible.

Baaware Maan Ke Sapne
An all women production, ‘Baaware Maan Ke Sapne’ enacted by homemakers who have gone through vigorous training of discipline of time, space and body, besides sessions on acting, communication etc. The protagonist Amma, an elderly woman decides to visit her daughter in London, and in her preparation for the voyage gets together with all the women in her family who share their stories – each being ruthless commentary on social evils that plague us to this day. The play intelligently wove excerpts from various stories by Indian women writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Lalitambika Antarjanam, dealing with tradition and scepticism, collective responsibility and individual choice, into its narrative.

OK Tata Bye, bye
Based on the Bachchda women who, by tradition, are sex workers and bread winners in their family, OK Tata Bye, bye, is a poignant play on a community that follows the matrilineal system. The play is based on filmmakers trying to capture the lives of the community on camera but they soon realize that these girls maybe naïve but not fools and it is the filmmakers who are the ones facing some hard questions.

“Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to.” – Willem Dafoe

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Women and Forests

International Day of Forests

Swathi Chaganty

“The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree,” said Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her exemplary work in the field of environmental conservatism, women’s rights, and led the charge of reforestation in Kenya.

And she is one of the many who have worked tirelessly in the field of forest conservation, environment protection and biodiversity preservation. From Margret Murie and Celia Hunter who shouldered the responsibility of safeguarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Rachel Carson – an author, whose passion for environment and acute observation of conventional farming and its impacts on the environment and public health led to the development of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the US to Jane Goodall the world renowned anthropologist and primatologist who made conservation and animal welfare her life’s mission to Vandana Shiva – who began her life in environmental activism and studies by documenting  the progress of the Chipko Movement in real time in the late 1980s.

And the achievements of these women trailblazers did not just fulfil the singular goal of forest conservation and biodiversity preservation but it did something more than that. Through each of their journeys, they encouraged hundreds and thousands of women to join their efforts and brought to the forefront the dynamic of “women and forests”.

Indigenous and rural women living in forests in many parts of the world are tasked with feeding and taking care of the family and that includes foraging for medicinal herbs, gathering food and fuel wood, collecting water. Thus, they are equal stakeholders in the forest ecosystem, interacting with every aspect of forest life, the wilderness, the illegal felling, the legal but destructive mining, good and bad conservation management and practices as well as the complicated land rights issues.

Therefore, understanding their challenges, viewing forest conservation and management and biodiversity protection from their perspective will not only give a new impetus to this endeavour but also make this journey a lot more holistic and sustainable. While the governments and think tanks engage with this head on, we as responsible citizens of the world have but one job, to be informed and educated.

Therefore, this International Forest Day, we have found three comprehensive resources that focus on the involvement of women in forest conservation.

World Rainforest Movement: An international initiative that focuses on the challenges faced by and solutions developed by the indigenous and peasant communities from the Global South. Their compendium – Women, forests and plantations. The Gender Dimension – published in 2005 presents several cases studies and articles focusing on the challenges of mining, illegal felling and climate change.

Picture Source: World Rainforest Movement

Forests and Gender: Another brilliant compilation by Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) – an advocacy that focuses on women’s rights, social, economic and environmental justice — that has compiled case studies from several countries across the world focused on the relationship between gender and forest conservation and issues such as climate change. This 123-page quick read, published in collaboration with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) also has a dedicated section aimed at possible strategies and management processes that can be adopted to gain a gender perspective in nature conservation management and climate change action plans.

Picture Source: Forests & Gender by WEDO and IUCN

Women’s Earth &Climate Action Network, International (WECAN): A solution-based organization that collaborates with women worldwide in policy advocacy, grassroots projects, trainings and building a climate justice movement. One of their major projects Women forForests aids indigenous women in their efforts to stand up to the extractive industries such as mining, felling, and expansive industrial agriculture that are threatening the very ecosystems they live in. Their Women Speak initiative is an international collaboration of collecting stories and cases studies of women who are at the frontlines of climate change.

Image result for WECAN International
Picture Source:

So, let us keep ourselves educated and informed, learn to critically view our existing systems through different lenses, and while we do that put into practice simple actions at an individual level because as Wangari Maathai said, you do not need a diploma to plant a tree.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Taking the Easy Way Out

Dr. A. L. Sharada

Director, Population First

Yesterday's report on the misogynist, rape posts by boys from a reputed school on a WhatsApp group sent shock waves across the nation. Many parents are petrified. I am sure, the girl students are also nervous. 

We need to act as this is the tip of the iceberg. The number of rapes and murders committed by young adults and adolescents reminds me of the filth that the sea throws back at us on Marine Drive during high tide in monsoons. The filth we are exposing our children through unregulated internet and social media is creating dehumanised young generation. I have been looking at some of the music videos of Yo Yo Honey Singh and  looking at the translation of the lyrics. I feel nauseous and sick, thinking how could someone promote violent sex and rape so blatantly. We don't watch Yo Yo Honey Singh right, we go to concerts by Shujaat Khan and Shiv Kumar Sharma, right. The culture gap between us and the youth we have not even thought of it.  I have been experiencing panic attacks just thinking about what must be happening to a confused, high on hormones adolescent who has no options of healthy conversations on sex, sexuality and relationships!!!

Time we introspect our responsibility towards children. Some parents said yesterday in a conversation, "how do we rob the innocence of the children by exposing them to issues like rape !!" I can understand but we have no option but to speak, move beyond good touch bad touch. Let's recognize that they are exposed to the toxic pop culture, rape videos and cyber predators. We need to pull our socks up and demand for good sex and sexuality education in schools.  Being prudish is not going to help. Let's face it head on.

It is sad that the only action that the school could think of is suspension, further marginalising and stigmatising the boys. The parents and students should undergo intense counselling sessions, individually and in groups to deal with the situation. 

I can understand how traumatic it is for the parents to know that their children are involved in such activities. I am sure they are the normal, well-intentioned parents like all of us. Let's not be judgmental about them. It could have  been our child also. Because increasingly, family and parental influence space is being encroached by mobiles, social media and pop culture. 

It's a serious issue. Let's not take the easy way out.

Source: @unwomen 

Quick Trials Not at the Cost of Fair Trials

Dr. A. L. Sharada

Director, Population First

Glad to see the stand of SC on expeditious trials leading to death sentence. While we all want the process to be expedited and justice assured to rape survivors, setting unrealistic deadlines like in the Disha policy of AP government may compromise investigative and judicial processes.

What we need is :

  • More Forensic labs and specialists
  • Better and professional protocols for investigation
  • No political interference in the police investigation
  • No corruption in the police and judiciary
  • Victim and witness protection
  • Fast track courts to deal with rape cases exclusively etc

Is there anyone willing to invest in these? Too much work and commitment, right? Instead pass populist laws that subvert the whole judicial process. Create a problem while trying to solve a problem.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Building resilience by investing in rural women

Dr Shiny Varghese

Image: Gaon Connection

While Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage environmental activist has been championing the cause of climate change and many nations have lent support to her cause, there still needs to be a concerted effort to act against climate change which requires investment in sustainable infrastructure for quality services and high political commitment. Change will not be possible with only leaders or activists like her speaking for the cause, but the community needs to come together to build a carbon neutral world. In most countries, rural women and girls face myriad challenges and bear the brunt of climate related disasters, we however tend to forget the important role they play in building climate resilience. The International Day of Rural women recognizes the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty”

Rural women and girls play a very important role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management. Globally, one in three employed women work in the agriculture sector which is time and labour intensive. These women are however neither adequately recognised nor compensated for their work. They also have limited or no access to stable and secure working conditions and social protection (International Labour Organization, 2017).

According to Oxfam (2013), around 80 percent farm work in India is done by women. Women and girls are also responsible to collect fuel and water in most households which are arduous tasks and pose risks to their health and well-being. They also hamper their ability to get good education, access to livelihood opportunities and be decision makers.

In Maharashtra sustained drought has resulted in crop failure, groundwater level depletion, increased climate risks, food insecurity and uncertain cash flows in absence of diversified livelihoods. This has made farming economically unviable for small and marginal farmers. Women and girls have suffered the most when access to natural resources and agriculture has been compromised. Women farmers are as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, but have lesser access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and high valued agri-food chains and hence no control over financial matters.  Socio-cultural barriers and discriminatory norms further hamper women’s access to productive resources and undermine their hard work even though their workload is increasing due to out-migration of men. Most gender and development indicators reveal that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and in turn experience poverty, exclusion as well as the effects of climate change.

The United Nations calls for empowering rural women as a pre-requisite for fulfilling the vision of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and this year’s theme for the International Day of Rural Women, "Rural women and girls building climate resilience" reiterates the fact that a sustainable future is unthinkable of without involving rural women and girls.

One of the most effective and efficient ways to tackle threats posed by climate change is by addressing gender inequality. Realizing that financial independence is a crucial element of empowerment which will enable women to address gender inequality and respond to climate change, we at Population First initiated a program titled Action for Mobilisation of community health initiatives (AMCHI). One of the many aims of the project is to improve women’s access to employable skills. It was felt that this would enable them have access to resources and in the long run empower them to take decisions at the individual, family and community level.

In 45 villages of Shahapur Block of Thane District, a program on vermi-composting was initiated. The program not only addressed issues related to declining agricultural yield by promoting organic farming but also created rural women entrepreneurs. Through this initiative, 45 vermi-composting units were created and are being run by 450 women across 45 villages. The program has not only improved women’s financial capacity but has also helped in promoting leadership which is essential to reduce the effects of climate threats.

Pursuing socio-economic empowerment of women by prioritizing sustainable livelihoods and rights will play a critical role in women adopting low – carbon technologies, spreading knowledge about climate change and help respond to climate change through agricultural production, food security and natural resource management.


Food and Agriculture Organization. (2018). Climate Change: United Nations Climate Change Conference. FAO.
International Labour Organization. (2017). Trends for Women 2017. Geneva: World Employment Social Outlook.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Empowering Girls to be the Agents of Change

Anuja Gulati

Consultant Population First

Picture Source: UNMIK UN Mission (

In 2012, the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child to raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality and discrimination faced by girls around the world.  This day provides an opportunity to highlight, discuss and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere.

We at Population First have been working to empower adolescent girls in Shahapur Block of Thane District as part of our Action for Mobilisation of Community Health Initiatives (AMCHI) Project. As part of this program we sensitise families and communities to create an enabling environment for girls to be enrolled and retained in school so that they can reach their full potential. We also work towards enhancing life skills of adolescents by building their health, social and economic assets, influencing their perspectives on gender and increasing possibilities of their leadership at the community level. We do this by providing adolescent girls with information on physical, sexual and reproductive health and linking them to appropriate services.

On this International Day of the Girl Child we would like to share some feedback from the ground. These are the stories of our adolescent girls from Ambarje village of Shahapur Block of Thane District.

Thirteen year old Pranali, who is studying in the ninth grade, takes pride in stating that she is part of the Enjoy Group of adolescent girls formed as part of the AMCHI project. She says “we are a total of 42 members in the group. As part of the group meetings we were given information on a range of subjects. It was for the first time I attended a session on body mapping and got to learn about body parts especially the reproductive organs. I would like to attend more such sessions as there is no other place from where we can get information like this. Even our teacher at school does not talk to us about these issues”. She further adds that the facilitator creates a nurturing and learning environment in the group and they do not hesitate to ask even the most embarrassing questions.

Pranali’s friend, 13 year old Akanksha adds; “menstruation is a subject that is never discussed either at school or amongst friends. At the group meeting we were told about why menstruation occurs, how to maintain hygiene during our periods and how to wash and dry menstrual cloth and dispose menstrual pads. We were also informed of a scheme about low cost sanitary napkins being available through the school. We discussed this with our teacher, who after a fortnight helped us get these pads. Each girl can now buy a packet of six pads for seven rupees.”

The sessions have not just helped the girls to understand their bodies and physical health requirements better, but also built their communication and negotiation skills as shared by Praṇali who says “we were told in the sessions that we should eat green leafy vegetables, salads, peanuts, jaggery and channa to help improve our haemoglobin levels”. At school we get a peanut and gur ladoo every day, however the ladoo tasted very bad. After the session we formed a small group and informed our principal about the same. We told her that the ladoo was so bad that most girls were throwing it every day. She talked to the person in-charge of the Ahaar scheme and ensured that the ladoo we get tasted better. We could do this only because we got the information that such a ladoo is good for improving our health and learnt to put our point of view to our teachers and adults clearly.”