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Important Questions About India’s Menstrual Crisis That Need To Be Answered Now

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In India, menstruation is considered as ‘impure’ and a very ‘hush hush’ subject. Menstruating women are even made to pay extra for the fact that they menstruate. Yes, sanitary napkins are taxed in our country – up to 14% in certain states! As if menstruation is a choice!

And it’s costing us. Lack of menstrual hygiene facilities and awareness is leading to 23% girls dropping out of schools, particularly rural. This has also obviously contributed to the skewed sex ratio in India’s workplaces. And it’s shocking that this is the state of affairs in the country of ‘Beti Bachao’!

Leading up to World Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28), Youth Ki Awaaz took the discussion to Twitter and spoke to 5 experts to get their perspectives on this. Here’s what they (and the Twitter community at large) had to say:

1. MP Sushmita Dev: ‘Affordability Will Empower [Women] To Overcome Any Stigma’

Our first panellist was MP Sushmita Dev, whose recent petition, #TaxFreeWings, to remove the taxes on sanitary napkins received overwhelming support (3 lakh+ signatures!) and even reached Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Why did she take up this cause?

“Right to life for women depends on menstrual hygiene, and low tax means better quality of life. GST is an opportunity not to be missed. Equality is an empty word unless women have equal access to education and work. Affordability will empower them better to overcome any stigma.”

And her words ring true. After all, how can we have gender equality when women are being taxed for being born as women?

2. Change.org India: ‘Don’t Change The Channel If A Sanitary Napkin Advert Appears On TV’

Change.org- India, the platform that helped drive the massive support for #TaxFreeWings was next on our panel, with amazing insights into what young people can do to abort the stigma around menstruation.

“There is a lot of stigma around menstruation, such petitions [like #TaxFreeWings] are important because they break those stereotypes. Young people should openly talk about menstrual health in schools and colleges. Don’t change the channel if a sanitary napkin advert appears on TV. Don’t let the chemist put the sanitary napkins in a black plastic bag or hide it in newspapers. Break the taboo. Have a conversation!”

3. MLA Renuka Bishnoi: Make Sanitary Napkins Tax-Free, Because They’re A Necessity, Not A Luxury

MLA Renuka Bishnoi, of Hansi constituency, also joined the chat, sharing her thoughts on why sanitary napkins need to be made tax-free, and immediately!

“I strongly advocate making sanitary napkins tax free, just like tax free condoms and contraceptives because sanitary napkins are not a luxury but a necessity. [We can improve menstrual hygiene by] conducting community dialogues involving both girls and boys,” she said.

4. WaterAid India: Swachh Bharat Needs To Care A Lot More About Menstrual Hygiene

WaterAid India, an organisation dedicated to improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene, gave a fresh turn to the conversation by questioning the actions of Swachh Bharat mission in improving menstrual hygiene, and the need to do better.

So, what role does Swachh Bharat need to play in all this? WaterAid India says, “Access to water, sanitation & hygiene affects menstrual hygiene management. Incinerator use must take account of product type, setting, efficient burning capacity and emission control measures. Safe disposal will be a problem as more females turn to pads with potential for 9000 tonnes of waste yearly.”

5. Khabar Lahariya: ‘Working Women Pay A Deep Psychological Price Because They Can’t Access Proper Menstrual Hygiene

Khabar Lahariya, a weekly, women-run newspaper in rural UP, shared insights as regarding the plight of young women in rural areas trying to access menstrual education. From stigma to lack of information, it’s an understatement to say that their situations are bad.

Said KL, “From lack of awareness to zero access to deeply ingrained taboos in a deeply patriarchal world, [accessing sanitary pads is tough for women in rural UP]. ‘This is not for you’ is the standard response to young girls trying to listen in to their mothers discuss their periods.

“Besides the dropout statistics, there’s a deep psychological price working women in rural UP pay [because they can’t access proper menstrual hygiene]. Their feelings of inferiority and weakness gets strengthened. And how!”

With such diverse perspectives coming through, the chat achieved a reach of over 12 million! It also drew inputs from popular Twitterati including Radhika Vaz, Pragya Vats, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and Sabika Abbas Naqvi, among many others. Mostly though, it opened up fresh perspectives to the discussion around menstrual health and hygiene in India!

Thousands of people have joined #IAmNotDown, Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign to smash the stigma around menstruation and demand affordable, tax-free sanitary napkins for every last woman. Join the campaign to be a part of the change by writing in and sharing your stories on social media!

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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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