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Access Denied! Will Intent Translate Into Action For People With Disabilities?

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In the very heart of Lucknow’s iconic Buddha Park is Akhilesh, balancing his crutches on the glazed tiles struggling hard to climb the steps of the public toilet to attend nature’s call. “It is not just this facility, but most of the public toilets in this city or I’d say even other cities are also difficult to access for people like me,” says Akhilesh who is working with a vocational training centre for persons with disability.

Barely one kilometre away from Buddha Park at another public toilet near King George Medical College, Dinesh Kumar, a street vendor was sitting helplessly in his wheelchair. A random reality check of various public and community toilets in the city by volunteers, during a week-long campaign to identify accessible and inclusive public toilets, substantiates his observations and experience.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol and the National Policy for Persons with Disability 2006, recognises that Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) are valuable human resources for the country. They seek to create an environment that provides them with equal opportunities as well as the protection of their rights and their full participation in the society. It agrees with the basic principles of equality, freedom, justice and dignity of all individuals that are enshrined in the Constitution of India. The Constitution also implicitly mandates an inclusive society for all, including persons with disabilities. But even after a decade of such commitments and resolutions made by the government at the global and national level, people with disability yearn for the basics – accessibility to public spaces and facilities.

The share of persons with disability in the country’s total population is 2.21%. The highest number of disabled persons (4.1 million or 15.5% of country’s PwD population) is from the State of Uttar Pradesh. The strong commitment of the government towards making the state of Uttar Pradesh Open Defecation Free (ODF) has led to huge investments and mobilisation towards the construction of household and public toilets.

To reach the mammoth target of building 1.55 crore toilets by  October 2, 2018, the state would have had to construct on an average 44,000 toilets every day. The ability to achieve this target was ably demonstrated by the state when a record 3.2 lakh toilets were built within a span of just 17 days in a special countrywide campaign under the Swachh Bharat Mission from September 15 to October 2, 2017.

The state from time to time has issued instructions to ensure that accessibility is included while constructing toilets both at the household level as well as the community level in rural and urban spaces. The chief secretaries of the state on May 28, 2012, and June 10, 2014, also instructed district authorities to ensure accessibility to public spaces and facilities for persons with disability. However, in the rush to meet the targets, care to ensure inclusive design in the construction of toilets seems to be the nowhere in the priority at the ground level till now. In the state capital alone there are 350 community and public toilets with around 3000 seats (still a much lower number than the required), but less than 5% have provisions such as ramps to facilitate access.

“Unavailability of accessible facilities causes a lot of difficulties in the day to day life of Persons with Disabilities,” says Suraj Yadav, who leads Uttar Pradesh Viklang Manch (UPVM), a pan UP collective having a membership strength of 45,000 of PwDs. During a discussion with UPVM members, it emerges that 90% of facilities are inaccessible to Persons with Disabilities especially to tricycle users, visually impaired persons, crutch and wheelchair users. UPVM aims to make accessible toilets as one of its key advocacy demands for its meeting with the chief minister scheduled in December 2017.

The initiatives were taken by the State Swachh Bharat Mission Directorate such as the dissemination of technical manuals on toilet designs for people with disability, conscious effort to train masons how to build PwD friendly toilets and the construction of demo toilets for learning and replication towards promoting inclusive toilets are appreciable. But the mapping of households having persons with disability, provisioning of additional resources towards incentives for toilets under Swachh Bharat Mission (heard there is an ongoing discussion at the Ministry level to increase the incentives for PwD toilets) or dovetailing with other schemes or funds will be critical to ensure that intent translates into affirmative action.

During his message on World Toilet Day, Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation aptly stated that, “Access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation was adopted as one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goals. It is not only about constructing toilets or sewerage. It is about understanding people’s needs and finding safe and sustainable solutions that ensure everyone’s dignity.”

With over 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state in India. In fact, it would have been fifth most populous country had it been an independent nation, hence a positive change in any indicators under SDGs in Uttar Pradesh will have a significant positive influence on national and global performance with respect to SDGs including Goal#6.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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