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You Decide Whether These Are Period Taboos Or Threats To Human Rights

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

“Glad her words don’t shed blood!”  Ruftaz Raj

In India, a lot of girls miss school days for numerous reasons, and today, I will be talking about that one reason which we don’t give much significance to –  the trepidation of stains and period shaming. I will be talking about the current condition of India’s ‘Period Poverty’ which is frequently explained as a lack of access to the menstrual edification as well as sanitary products. You will be surprised to know that this condition is prevalent in India, along with the other countries of the world, and is a matter that alarms half the population of the human race today.

Menstruation is an innate and healthy process occurring in girls and women of reproductive age, where the uterus discards blood and tissues through the vagina.THAT’S IT! Sounds quite simple… doesn’t it? However, unfortunately, it’s NOT! Sadly, it is a taboo and is being considered as impure or thwarting in our society and there are a number of fables regarding it. Generally, May 28th is observed as Menstrual Hygiene Day internationally.

You Decide Whether These Are Taboos Or Threats To Human Rights:

  • In some areas, during menstruation, women are forbidden from participating in usual activities are not allowed to do household work like cooking, for a period of 3 nights.
  • Do you know only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins? 88% of women use unsanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand which leads to a number of health risks.
  • Even today, buying sanitary napkins for women can be embarrassing and the medical stores or the grocery stores pack them in a wrapper and people are OK with it! Ironically, in Assam, Guwahati, people generally celebrate this natural process majestically through the Hindu Goddess Kamakhya (The Bleeding Goddess).
  • Yes, in today’s 21st century too, everyone knows about it but no one is allowed to talk about it publicly. Films are being made on this, numerous campaigns are going on but the fact is that people do hesitate to utter this word in front of others.
  • In some cases, women are not permitted to water plants or sleep in the same bed as their husbands while they are menstruating…just imagine. Well, the weirdest of all these taboos is the “don’t touch the pickles during periods” theory which is nonsensical and illogical.
  • Many Indian women still believe that they cannot visit a place of worship during their period.

There are many more social taboos but I think these above-mentioned ones are harrowing enough.

Here’s Why Period Poverty Is Not Just A Woman’s Issue

  1. For low-income families, the price of different sanitary pads makes them inaccessible frequently, because of the towering cost of sanitation facilities.
  2. In India,  70 percent of all reproductive diseases are caused by different kinds of pitiable menstrual hygiene situations. Researchers estimate that 71 percent of girls in India have no awareness about menstrual well-being until after their first period.
  3. Surprisingly, in 2017, the Indian government labelled menstrual products as luxury goods but in July of 2018, the Indian government removed the tax, to make the sanitary products more accessible to everyone.

Apart from the good news of the removal of taxes, there are a lot of positive steps that have been taken to address the issues of period poverty. Different types of nonprofit organisations are fighting for menstrual correspondence through menstrual education, free distribution of sanitary products and government sponsorship and so on; like the Sikun Relief Foundation which is continuously working on menstrual health and sanitisation in different places, especially in the disaster-prone areas.

What I think is that the different kinds of menstrual artefacts must also be harmless, helpful and adequate to all the women and girls who use them; like the disposable and reusable sanitary napkins, disposable tampons, and menstrual cups, clean and porous fabrics like the rags or underwear. Girls and women should also be educated about premenstrual syndrome (PMS), like changes in desire for food, backaches, acne, bloating, headaches, sadness, feelings of sorrow, nervousness or anxiety, bad temper, sweating, constipation or diarrhoea, nuisance concentrating, insomnia, tiredness and many more which differ from person to person.

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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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