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Status Check: How Well Has The Scheme To Promote Menstrual Hygiene Fared In India?

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In February this year, Congress MP Sushmita Dev wrote to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley asking him to scrap taxes on sanitary pads. The politician also sent a public petition to Arun Jaitley, Maneka Gandhi, and J. P. Nadda on International Women’s Day reiterating the same demand.

The change.org petition that Dev wrote to union ministers lists multiple reasons like better livelihood opportunities for rural women manufacturing these napkins and increased attendance of girls in school for making sanitary pads tax free. However, it is Dev’s response to a question from a journalist that tells us why the issue of universal access to menstrual hygiene has remained largely un-addressed in the country.

Dev, for instance, told TheNewsMinute that affordability would be redundant for women in rural areas unless they are aware of sanitary practices around menstruation and given access to resources required for implementing those practices. In fact, accessibility and awareness are issues that need urgent addressing as the government’s own assessments show.

Take for example the Scheme for Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene started by the government in 2010 for providing sanitary napkins to adolescent girls at a nominal cost, for safe disposal of used napkins, and for spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene. Started as a pilot in 112 selected districts in 17 states under the National Health Mission, the scheme was extended to 162 districts in 20 states in 2015. It has been run in convergence with sanitation programmes (currently Swachh Bharat Mission) to enable further access to sanitation measures.

Data available with the government, in fact, shows that the apprehensions Dev has about the success of her campaign might remain unattended unless governments take up the matter seriously. And while the efforts may be well intended, when it comes to implementation, the results are patchy at best.

Expenditures under the scheme aren’t recorded by the central government but audit reports and annual reviews of the NHM show that there is enough scope for improvement. An audit done during 2014-15 by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) for schemes meant for Scheduled Tribes found poor implementation, particularly in the states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and West Bengal.

Of the eight selected districts in Gujarat, the scheme had been implemented in only two districts, the CAG found. Moreover, 73 percent of the napkins supplied to the two districts were lying unutilised till September 2014. In Chhattisgarh, no sanitary napkins had been distributed by any level of health centre under the scheme. West Bengal had not held any promotional campaigns for menstrual hygiene.

Similarly, the 2015 annual review of the National Health Mission found that the “uptake of napkins under Menstrual Hygiene Scheme (MHS) was low, largely due to poor quality as reported in Himachal Pradesh and irregular supply of the sanitary napkins as informed in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Odisha”. ASHA workers had also not organised the monthly meetings for awareness generation in Uttarakhand, Haryana and Karnataka – as required under the mission.

According to another 2015 CAG report for the state of Maharashtra, the central government had found in October 2013 that efforts made by the state for “demand generation were weak resulting in low awareness about the importance of menstrual hygiene”. Poor quality of these napkins was another issue identified for the state in the report.

Safe disposal of used napkins is also a part of the scheme. A CAG report for Tamil Nadu found that the funds allocated for it had become idle investment. “The indecisiveness in finalising the implementing agency and the technology to be adopted” had led to Rs 8.45 crore just lying idle in the project director’s account for nearly a year.

Needless to say, these numbers don’t bid too well as far as the issue of menstrual hygiene management is concerned. A number of these issues have been repeatedly flagged for various states in the annual review of the NHM done by the central government. While reducing or scrapping the tax on sanitary napkins is definitely a sensible thing to do, not fixing schemes that already exist and that the government funds directly impacts a sizeable population of our country which continues to live without access to or awareness about menstrual hygiene. It is about time the government works in these areas and fixes these problems too.

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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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