This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sanket Patil. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Young Girls Are Quitting School Because Of Periods And You Can Do Something To Stop It

This post is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s campaign #IAmNotDown to start a conversation on the stigma around menstrual hygiene women deal with. If you have an opinion on how we can improve access to menstrual hygiene products or a personal story of fighting menstrual taboos, write to us here.

I learnt to look away or pretend to be overly interested in doing something when there was any hush-hush discussion about periods and sanitary napkins. You were not supposed to ask what the black plastic bag contained. Even commercials for sanitary napkins had to be discreet enough to not allude to the fact that they were concerned with periods, a biological process that almost all cisgender women go through. Not to mention the mystifying blue liquid that made it even harder for an eleven-year-old me to understand what the commercials were about.

Periods are still a taboo, and the commercials for sanitary products have to be clinical, the women starring in them happy. I started to attach it to something that is to be hidden and not talked about. Not only do women have to go through periods, they also have to hide any evidence of their discomfort.

I am Sanket Patil, Head of Communications at SheSays, a non-profit NGO that addresses sexual violence as a public heath issue and focuses on educational reform, health and sanitation and improving gender-specific public safety via youth engagement. Recently we started a viral campaign called #LahuKaLagaan, or ‘tax on blood’, to urge Hon’ble Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, to make sanitary napkins tax-free under the GST.

Not only are periods considered a taboo but are also taxed up to 14.5% depending on different states. To make matters worse, they are taxed as luxury products. Sanitary products are deemed a luxury by our government. Girls in remote areas miss school for five days in a month because this ‘luxury’ is not accessible or affordable to them. Some leave school on menarche i.e. the first occurrence of menstruation. They are caught off guard when they get their first period because no one had explained to them what periods are. In fact, only 12% of Indian women use sanitary napkins because the remaining 88% cannot afford them, lack information, or sanitary napkins are simply not accessible to them. Women resort to using unhygienic objects such as paper, cloth, husk and wood shavings, which in turn cause urinary tract infections and vastly increase the chance of cervical cancer.

#DontTaxMyPeriod

Something has to be done about this oppressive and discriminatory taxation. Women are not able to achieve their full potential because of a biological process. Their quality of living is affected because of lack of affordable and accessible sanitary products. This has to change now.

So, at SheSays, we started a petition in collaboration with Global Citizen India in October 2016 called #DontTaxMyPeriod, to spread awareness about this tax and catalyse the fight against it. We sent legal representations to concerned government officials to urge them to abolish the tax. #LahuKaLagaan is the second segment of this campaign. We spent days using social media to bring people’s attention to this issue.

The response to the campaign has been tremendous, and it has gone viral with many publications covering the campaign. It’s become a people’s campaign, bigger than all of us, and has taken a life of its own. Many people were not aware of this tax and responded with surprise, shock and anger to the campaign. It was heartening to see the outpour of support from actors, comedians, sportspersons, YouTube personalities and people from various other fields. After all, they are key in amplifying the campaign and helping it reach out to a wider audience. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that together we can affect policy-level change. We have to ensure that we are heard and our demands are considered before the GST council.

With such support, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that together we can affect policy-level change. We have to ensure that we are heard and our demands are considered before the GST council. We want to make as many people aware of this unfair tax as possible. Especially when it is literally taking lives in some parts of India. As a people, we need to use our collective voice to effect change by mobilising everybody around us and putting pressure on the government. Condoms are rightfully tax-free and it really is about time that sanitary products are too.

Today, the hashtag #LahuKaLagaan has more than 22 million impressions on Twitter, a testament to the fact that people are concerned and they care. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also taken cognizance of our representation and forwarded it to the GST council for perusal and consideration. However, we still have a long way to go. We need not only to ensure that sanitary products are tax-free but also to ensure that they are included as ‘essential commodities’ under the Essential Commodities Act. Vending machines that dispense sanitary napkins must be installed at appropriate places. Local self-help groups should be provided with inexpensive machinery to manufacture sanitary napkins designed by Indian innovators to ensure that sanitary napkins are affordable and accessible everywhere.

The paramount importance of accessibility and affordability of sanitary napkins cannot be downplayed. No girl should ever be made to feel that her biological bodily process, that she has no control over, deserves to strip her of basic rights such as hygiene and education. It’s time to lend your voice, speak up and ensure that sanitary products are an accessible and an affordable reality for every woman!

Right to hygiene is non-negotiable. Right to health is non-negotiable. Right to education is non-negotiable. Say no to #LahuKaLagaan!

Featured Image Credit: Max Pixel
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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.

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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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