Why Is Menstruation Still Missing From India’s Political Discourse?

The political picture of today’s India is very different from earlier times because this time the Narendra Modi-led NDA government got a historic majority to constitute the government. This shows that India now has a firm political, majoritarian and self-sufficient one-party rule. The debate on the political narrative could be accepted but at the same time, the questions and the intention of this government should be talked about more.

One such question today needs to be why menstruation is still missing from the Indian political discourse. We have to accept the fact that with time, people from across the spectrum in the society are now coming out with discussions related to the taboos associated with menstruation. However, in parliamentary politics, this taboo is still well established and there has hardly ever been any political discourse related to menstruation.

Menstrual Leave

In a first of its kind, in the lower house of the Parliament on January, 2018 an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, Ninong Ering, moved a private member’s bill named Menstrual Benefit Bill 2017. “The bill proposes that women working in both the public and private sectors be given two days of paid menstrual leave each month. The bill also looks to provide better rest facilities for women at their workplace during menstruation,” noted an article published in Feminism in India website.

Image result for menstrual leaveIn the process, the Ministry of Women and Child Development came out with a statement in the house where they discussed various awareness programs as planned by the ministry. However, the ministry never accepted the bill and neither was the issue ever discussed in any of the houses of the Indian Parliament.

But the questions is, is it extraordinary to make menstruation a part of the political discourse? The reality is, in a democracy like India every law is passed by both the houses of the Parliament where the public representatives or the lawmakers come from various political parties, therefore, till the time menstruation stays out of the political discourse there cannot be any law in terms of menstrual health, or hygiene, including the discussion on menstrual leave.

To get a world perspective, there are many countries, like Japan, which have the provision of menstrual leave and these countries also have democratic political structure. In the year 1947, Japan passed the law of menstrual leave, right after World War II. South Korea too has been following that since 2001.

In India, menstrual leave is a provision only in the state of Bihar. “While not commonly known, in India, the Bihar Government has been offering two days of period leave to women employees since 1992. Women can decide which two days of the month they would like to take off without having to provide any justification for doing so,” noted an article published in the Business Line magazine.

The Patriarchal Structure Of Indian Politics

Standing in 2019, there is no doubt that Indian politics has a very patriarchal nature and is extremely male-dominated. Women Reservation Bill has been pending in the Parliament for years and there is no political consensus over this bill.

This time after the Lok Sabha election, India got nearly 14% of women representatives in the Parliament. With only 14% women representation, how much could be done to take issues like menstruation in the political discourse that only time will tell. Historically, in India, the political discourse has always been silent about the women related issues.

Women representatives of political parties also rarely came together to make such issues a part of political discourse as there is a huge political divide in the political parties. The male-dominated political structure in India has always focused on issues of ideology, corruption, unemployment and economic models. Before every election, every political party in India comes up with its manifesto which is supposed to be a vision plan. This time the manifestoes of the major political parties created a lot of buzz, but in none of the manifestos was there any vision for menstrual hygiene, which is precisely why menstruation is still out of the political discourse in India.

Image result for sabarimala temple protest

The menstrual taboo is so distinct among political parties that it vividly came out in front of us after the Sabarimala verdict. “The Supreme Court has struck down a rule that disallowed girls and women in the 10-50 age group from entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala. Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who headed the Constitution bench in a 4-1 verdict, said the temple rule violated their right to equality and right to worship,” noted an Economic Times report. But just after the verdict protests and violence ensued across Kerala.

The Hindu nationalist groups created a ruckus and stopped women from entering the temple, after which a review petition was filed in the Supreme Court. This is the reality of Indian political discourse. People are still not ready to disparage the myths associated with menstruation and believe that menstruating women should not go to a temple as they are considered ‘impure’.

Government Schemes And Programs On Menstrual Health

In India, a number of women in the reproductive age group (15–49 years) is more than 31 crores (Census 2011). The Central government has incorporated some of the basic awareness programs about menstrual health. “The campaigns like Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya have some clauses related to menstrual health. Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya campaign has been launched to ensure that every school in India has a set of functioning and well-maintained WASH facilities including soap, private space for changing, adequate water for washing, and disposal facilities for used menstrual absorbents,” noted a research article published in Indian Journal of Public Health.

The article further noted, “High quality and highly subsidized sanitary napkins are being made available to the adolescent girls in rural areas by Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and “Training Modules for ASHA on Menstrual Hygiene” are also used for their capacity building. The SABLA program of Ministry of Women and Child Development has incorporated awareness generation on MHM as an important initiative to improve health, nutrition, and empowerment for adolescent girls.”

The government has also launched sanitary napkins Suvidha in packs of four priced at Rs 10 and the awareness is being done through advertisements.

Poor Implementation Of Schemes

Lastly, all these above initiatives are not only menstrual hygiene related initiatives but in most of the cases, these are a part of some large campaigns. As a result, there has been no proper report or monitoring of these programs and because menstruation is not a part of the political discourse, the implementation of these initiatives never got momentum in most states.

The state governments also have some similar initiatives but there has not been any report card of the outcome. None of the governments ever came out with any report card on the success rate of menstrual hygiene schemes. The political fraternity of India seems to be oblivious to the importance of incorporating this subject in the daily discourse.

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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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