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For Sasha, the YWCA has been a springboard into a career as a gender rights activist. It was through this platform that, for the first time, she experienced women’s unity and a respectful attitude towards women’s issues.
Raised in an all-women household, Sasha always found a supportive environment for her ideas and beliefs. Even as a child, she defied gender stereotypes and did what she wanted. And so, it came as no surprise for her family when she chose to be an activist.
Due to the political crisis in Belarus, navigating gender-based issues has been challenging. Men are prone to venting their frustrations on women around them, leading to extreme trauma for the latter, and even violence. Yet, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and mental health are largely ignored by the people, who are unable to prioritise these issues in this situation.
In the current climate, activists, too, have been finding it difficult to concentrate on SRHR issues and its interlinkages with mental health. Sasha, however, has been leading online interactions with bloggers, reformers and sex educators to expand the movement. They, in turn, actively use social media to spread knowledge about the subject.
To address SRHR, Sasha organised several activities, including a workshop for more than a dozen Belarusian journalists on how to report on sexual abuse, SRHR and women’s rights. The purpose of the training was to enhance mainstream media’s capacity to provide well-informed, non-sexist and factual information to the public while countering misleading and sexist narrative.
To spread the message of SRHR widely, Sasha teamed up with Fem FM, a podcast about women’s issues and rights. The podcast has been able to build its own community of users who engage in “feminist chats” on Telegram and use a custom collection of chat stickers to create awareness about SRHR. She calls it a “Fem Collaboration”.
While activists and media from all sides are now uniting to make their voices heard about SRHR and mental health, and more and more young people are taking the lead, there is still a long way to go. But Sasha continues to stay committed to work with women in her community, taking one step at a time.
“If I could go back in time, I’d tell my 15-year-old self that it’s okay to not fit the standards. It’s not necessary to compete with other girls, it’s better to unite with them and support each other.”
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