4 Things You Can Demand From The Govt. To Better Menstrual Hygiene, And How

For some time now, activists, politicians, and organisations have been demanding that the central government scrap taxes on sanitary napkins. From better attendance of female students in schools to better employment opportunities for rural women, they have listed a number of reasons for doing so.

And while that may be a good thing to do, menstrual hygiene is an issue that demands action on multiple fronts, as some have already highlighted. Take for example, the case of a group of women advocates in Tamil Nadu who filed a petition before the Madras High Court last year demanding that not only ‘Napkin Vending Machines’ be installed in government schools but incinerators for safe disposal of napkins be also provided for.

The court then ordered that sanitary napkins be provided in all government schools for girls, in co-education high schools, and higher secondary schools. “The quality of the Napkins should be ensure,” the court said, while pronouncing this order for immediate implementation. The court also ordered that at least one operational incinerator be installed in all government schools by the end of the academic year.

The order just goes on to show that we can demand more from the government when it comes to the issue of menstrual hygiene. There are in fact guidelines under Swachh Bharat Mission that address the issue of menstrual hygiene. Here are some areas the government is required to work in as per the guidelines that you can demand action on:

1. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Facilities

The guidelines intend to convey that menstrual hygiene doesn’t just begin and end at using sanitary napkins. No wonder a number of ministries such as the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Ministry of Human Resources Development have been asked to provide for these facilities.

In schools, the guidelines say, women – both students and staff- must have “clean, easily accessible water and soap to wash themselves, wash their clothing if soiled, and wash menstrual cloths or reusable napkins”. Not only should the water be provided “inside the toilet”, a mug to dispense water should also be available.

A well-positioned mirror for checking stains, a private bathing/changing unit, including a place for drying reusable menstrual adsorbents, are other infrastructural facilities required to be provided in schools.

2. Disposal Mechanism

Disposing used napkins in the open, in water bodies, or in public places not only are not helpful for sanitation workers, they can also have adverse effect on the environment. The guidelines therefore also require that schools provide for disposal bins preferably within each cubicle for collection of such waste. Further, these bins should have close fitting lids to minimise seepage of waste.

If disposing the waste offsite, schools can either seek the help of solid waste management system or hospitals which have safe treatment unit for hazardous waste.

However, as transportation can be a logistical problem for rural schools, they are advised to use “deep burial, composting, pit burning and incineration” for disposal.

3. Menstrual Hygiene Management Education for Men Too

Many women face stigma and discrimination while menstruating from men, a problem that the government has recognised. “Informed adolescent boys, male teachers and parents contribute to a supportive environment for adolescent girls in school and at home,” the guidelines developed by the government in 2015 say.

The Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram medical teams visiting schools are therefore required to hold educational sessions around menstruation for both girls and boys. Fathers and male teachers should also be sensitised and informed about needs of adolescent girls, according to the government’s guidelines.

4. Budget for Menstrual Hygiene

Many state governments haven’t been prompt or judicious in utilising funds for a scheme meant for menstrual hygiene. The new guidelines say that allocating required budgets for dissemination of information and education as well as for capacity building of teachers is a must. Moreover, the guidelines also provide a model framework for allocation of these funds.

Unfortunately, expenditure particular to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) isn’t maintained by the central government under all schemes. It is also data that may not be readily available unless the government audits these schemes specifically to find out the money spent on MHM. But there’s always the Right to Information Act which you can use to request information on such expenditure from your local administration or government.

Only 12% women and girls in the country who menstruate have access to sanitary napkins. It’s not enough to just demand sanitary pads. There is a lot more that we need to do in order to make sure this statistic changes. Let’s ask the government to address this issue in its entirety.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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