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With No Water Or Electricity In Manipur’s Noney, How Do Women Think Of Menstrual Hygiene?

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WASH logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #NoMoreLimits, a campaign by WASH United and Youth Ki Awaaz to break the silence on menstrual hygiene. If you'd like to become a menstrual hygiene champion, share your story on any one of these 5 themes here.

A village woman in the hills of Noney in Manipur carries a cane basket ‘Kah’ on her head, collects vegetables and fruits from her farm or forest to sell in the main market on National Highway 37 and earns a petty income to support her family. Women walk long distances for their livelihood activities, to visit the hospital, school, market or medical store. The number of households having their own private car or two-wheeler is less. There is no facility of public transport in this hill district of Manipur which has a population of close to 37,000 barring a few private autos that run on the highway but no commendable transportation linking villages located up in the hills to the main market, the district headquarters or health facilities. Additionally, the condition of roads, in areas where people have no other means but to walk, is exceptionally bad with sharp stones and rocks and not a sign of tar topping anywhere. The private transport available only for a little patch on the main road offers no significant relief to women.

A woman, with a basket hanging from her head, heading out to work in Noney.
A woman heading out to work in Noney.

‘Breaking the Silence’, a global campaign works on raising awareness on menstruation and best hygiene practices in remote parts of India. It interacted with several women in its outreach program in Noney District with an objective of understanding barriers here. A woman complained of pain in the neck, back and legs from carrying a full basket for long distances on foot. The Medical Officer at the Primary Health Centre pointed out that majority of the OPD cases are dominated by women, though the exact underlying reason is not ascertained. Most of the medical complaints among women patients are related to excessive physical activity like back pain, knee pain and joint pain. White discharge and itchiness are common hygiene related complaints.

From the many interactions with community, health and medical personnel, there is reason to believe that lack of public transportation in Noney is affecting the health and morbidity of women, limiting their access to opportunity and income, medical facilities and emergency services, rendering undue stress from this forced hardship and affecting their productivity.

In times of delivery, it becomes very difficult for families of pregnant women to rush her to the PHC. While the Health Department advocates for an institutional delivery, if there is no transportation and good roads, how can such goals be achieved? In other parts of India, the state governments run call centre-based ambulance services, toll-free helplines 108 and 102 to provide free ambulance pick up and drop service to pregnant women linking public healthcare to the remotest villages of India under the National Health Mission and Department of Health and Family Welfare. 108 ambulance service aims to reach patients in rural parts within 40 minutes and bring them to the nearest health facility. Even sanitary pads distributed in government hospitals after a delivery and by ASHAs to girls and women in villages are not known in this region, nor are similar government relief policies visible.

Villages do not have medical stores and little shops selling few essential household items do not sell sanitary napkins. Sanitary napkins are only found in the medical stores and pharmacies numbering less than ten, located in the main market. Mostly girls and women come to buy these sanitary napkins, so the pharmacist wraps it in a newspaper to help shy customers. The most popular brands are Stayfree for its low cost and Whisper for its absorbency and anti-leak technology. Few Chinese brands are also popular including Magnetic Energy Anion Sanitary Napkins and AiRiz Active Oxygen and Negative Ion Soft Cotton Sanitary Napkins. Though priced much higher than Indian brands (close to Rs.200 per pack), the foreign manufacturers claim to provide relief from menstrual cramps, infections, itchiness and foul smell. The government needs to have mechanisms to verify how safe these products are and promote affordable and safe products only.

Without good transportation mechanism, access to sanitary materials and medical consultation and treatment are limited considerably. Mechanisms to assess and ensure the safety, affordability, accessibility and availability of sanitary napkins and materials in the market needs to be in place so girls and women are not exposed to danger and other medical complications from poor quality products and can buy and use sanitary napkins with ease.

Awareness of other sanitary materials other than cloth and pads like tampons, menstrual cups, eco-friendly bio-degradable sanitary pads or reusable cloth pads is low. The biology of menstruation and correlation to vitality, health and ability to give birth is not understood by a majority of girls and women. Girls and women seek clarity on diet during periods for reducing weakness or menstrual cramps, they ask us not taking a bath or washing hair during periods was scientific and good for health, or for a remedy for itchiness and skin infections.

The most common complaints we’ve head from them are itchiness, irregular periods, low volume blood flow during menstruation, menstrual cramps and skin infections. The cause of skin infection is due a lack of personal hygiene and ignorance. These problems are seldom shared with mothers or teachers and the extent of silence is so profound that young girls seek medical solutions in pharmacies and with quacks, and rarely with adults known to them.

A trained nurse, Amona Kamei who runs Gaza Pharmacy in Noney bazaar, shares her observation that young girls do not even have basic hygiene knowledge of taking bath daily, using soap to wash hands and that wearing washed and clean undergarments can go a long way in avoiding skin infections. Another pharmacist, S.K Aneiliu, runs Highway Medical and advocates for frequent sanitary napkin change to avoid infections to buyers.

A stream running through the village.

What is most ironic is the water scarcity experienced by the community in Noney, despite receiving high rainfall and having rivers like Ijei (Agah in Rongmei/Kabui dialect), Iril(Aling in Rongmei dialect) and Leimatak(Apin in Rongmei dialect). Households do not receive tap water and there are no significant water reservoirs. People connect pipes to brooks which bring water either to a common point in the village for the entire habitation or to a few homes, since this is a private arrangement to secure water and not by the government. Additionally, this water is untreated and does not offer uninterrupted supply when brooks dry up in the lean season. The electricity supply is erratic and power cuts last not less than a week. The impact of this on productivity, small-scale industry and the quality of life is obvious.

70 years of independence and yet, a tribal community in northeastern region of India still awaits water supply, electricity, roads and transportation in Noney district in Manipur.

Left on its own to find a way, the tribal community composed of the Kabui tribe, Chiru, Kuki and Inpuimei has found solace in the Church which plays an important part in not just spiritual growth of its people but offers humanitarian service in education, health, relief, youth and women empowerment and infrastructure. Besides that, the ancestors and elderly still guide community decisions with their age-old wisdom. An old woman from a remote village Rangkhung(Langkhong) Part-1 said, “I can identify which tribe a person, be it a woman or a man, comes from by their smell. Each has its own diet and smell.”

In the hill district of Noney where several tribal communities live, that which has experienced decades of armed conflict but is naturally endowed, menstrual hygiene is possible only if the government of Manipur makes pucca roads connecting villages to district headquarters, organizes public transport like minibuses or autos, builds water reservoirs and water treatment and distribution mechanisms, hydel projects in either Noney or Tamenglong to address electricity deficit, assesses the affordability and quality of available sanitary napkins and encourages safe products for its young girls and women.

Noney(Longmai) khou gong louna kagan gansak aniu goi le bam incham louna aniu tong rianra khatni kalam thai lou the. Thuanku the.

Let's ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period by making menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools.

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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

  • Mobilising young people between the age of 18-35 to become ‘Eco-Period Champions’ by making the switch to a sustainable menstrual alternative and becoming advocates for the project
  • All existing and upcoming public institutions (pink toilets, washrooms, schools, colleges, government offices, government buildings) across East Delhi to have affordable provisions for sustainable menstrual product options

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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