Women In India Will Be Worst Hit By Climate Change. Here’s How

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“Water, water everywhere, /Nor any drop to drink.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). 

The water crisis is real and all set to explode in the course of a few years.

According to the UN, by 2050, India is projected to add 416 million urban residents to its already mammoth population. The UN also reports that the demand for water supply in India will be doubled from what it is today by 2030. As difficult as it might be for us to fathom, as we immerse ourselves in technology and knowingly and unknowingly contribute to the destruction of natural resources around us, the water crisis is real and all set to explode in the course of a few years.

In 2019, Chennai, one of the leading metropolises in the country, witnessed an acute shortage of water supply, with reports revealing that the country’s reservoirs had been drained completely. Lack of freshwater affected nearly 500 million people across the country in the past year with the brunt of the escalating crisis falling on women, especially in the rural and rural-urban areas.

From time immemorial, society had seen a sharp division of labour when it came to performing certain roles and duties. Even at the time of hunter-gatherers—the simplest form of society—women were tasked with collecting water and gathering fruits and raw vegetables from the forest. The men would hunt while the women gathered, and make no mistake; the men’s job was considered more crucial to existence. Today, millions of years later, the women still perform the same roles, the only difference being that the tasks they perform have become indispensable to survival while the men remain blissfully unaware.

One common sight in every village in India made popular even through mainstream media and films, is that of women of all ages queuing up to collect water from the tube well, carrying huge, colourful tumblers and buckets to and from home. In other places, they would draw water from the wells and ponds making several trips back and forth. Be it the sweltering heat of an oppressive summer, the cold mornings during the winter or the dirt and muck of the monsoon; these women are seen fetching water for the family throughout the year.

While the collection of water remains a largely female responsibility, and god knows that the dry taps and barren water bodies are a daily struggle for these women. In rural-urban areas, while the supply of water might be marginally better (the keyword being marginal), the fact remains that the water crisis is as personal to women in the country as it is political at an international scale.

The woman, whether urban or rural, educated or uneducated, continue to be inextricably connected with running the family in the domestic domain. Thus, the performance of household chores, cooking, washing of clothes and utensils remain an integral part of the everyday life of most women in the country. And without water, life can only be so smooth.

Another reason why women are worst-affected by the steadily progressing water crisis is the maintenance of menstrual hygiene.

Another reason why women are worst-affected by the steadily progressing water crisis is the maintenance of menstrual hygiene. In India, around 36% of the women have access to sanitary napkins, and the rest are subjected to despicable sanitary standards (reports suggest that approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases are caused due to poor menstrual hygiene) using anything from cloth, sand, ashes and soil while on their period. Given this situation, the lack of water, more precisely clean water, can and do pose any amount of health risks, some of them fatal.

From chronic reproductive tract infections to major diseases that could cause permanent damage to the reproductive system, the gynaecological and reproductive health of women is threatened, affecting their child-bearing capacity, causing infertility, miscarriages and mortality. The extreme lack of sanitation and menstrual hygiene is thus already a huge socio-economic issue, layered with ignorance, poor education and the inherent gender politics in every home in India. On top of this, the complete dearth of water that is fast affecting the country now is a sign for menstruating women that disaster is waiting to strike.

Unsafe, polluted water leading to innumerable water-borne diseases has been a major concern for decades in the country. In 2017, 69.14 million cases of water-borne disease were reported in India; water is for everybody, and it is only because of the existing norms in society, and the female physiology, that it becomes a woman’s problem first and then the man’s (a fact that often takes a backseat within the bigger picture).

The irony is that despite the devastating floods occurring across states on a regular basis, (read: the recent floods ravaging Bihar, the deluge in Assam, the annual flood situation in Maharashtra, the disastrous 2018 Kerala floods, the floods in Tamil Nadu that brought the state to a standstill in 2015 etc.), the parched lands, the dry wells and tanks, the persistently unsustainable use and consumption of water, to say nothing of inefficient water management and irrigation techniques, is setting up the mise-en-scene for a crisis that might soon turn the country into a withered tableau of death and destruction.

Note: Without reducing carbon emissions, the future looks dry for India. If global temperatures continue to rise, rainfall patterns will only become extremely unpredictable, causing an increase in floods and droughts, adding to the misery of water shortage. As more and more of our population is pushed to live in water-stressed areas, we must demand for ways to curb GHGs emissions.

This post is also a part of YKA's first user-run series, Water Wars, by Zeba Ahsan. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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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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