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In India’s Red Revolution, These Warriors Are Tackling Menstrual Waste Head On

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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.

India is still trying to find its voice while standing in the middle of a ‘red’ revolution. Even as the media explodes with narratives, pictures, and discourse on menstruation, India still remains a country where this conversation, whether in the open or among co-eds, is still very much taboo. Keeping this in mind, one can only imagine how much harder it is to carry out the ‘practical’ discourse on menstrual waste disposal.

Despite this, certain endeavours have made a breakaway in uncharted paths to menstrual mindfulness. Recently, Pune and Bangalore became the first cities in India to segregate menstrual waste during routine garbage collection. Pune’s SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling) handles an estimate of 20,000 used diapers and sanitary pads daily. The waste collectors had to go through the punishing task of segregating these from dry waste, often with bare hands. The smell of these bodily wastes along with flies and bacteria left the collectors exposed to many diseases along with a deep sense of humiliation for having to do this for a living.

Kagad Kach Patra Kastakari Panchayat (KKPKP), a trade union of waste pickers with the Pune Municipal Corporation came up with the Red Dot Campaign to address this dilemma. The drive requires such waste to be put in a separate bag with a red dot on it, which the collectors would deposit in a different red pick-up cart, headed for the incinerators installed at disposal booths. Malati Gadkil, head of the campaign, noted that slowly, more and more citizens are being careful while disposing of menstrual and fecal waste.

The ‘Red Dot’ campaign.

Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanag Palike (BBMP) is on the same track. But residents are proving that mere legislation is not enough till penalties are also put in place. To show that they mean business, the BBMP fined residents who did not segregate dry, wet, and sanitary waste.

The campaign aims to arrest reckless sanitary waste disposal and also to get sanitary makers to be more accountable. Unlike food, these products do not have to mention the ingredients of production. It is only left to our imagination to figure how much plastic a pad or a tampon contains.

A small village in Uttar Pradesh, Papna Mau has devised a low-cost incinerator made of an earthen compost pot that is lined with leaves. Every residence in the village has one where women of the house dispose of used sanitary pads and then burn it with oil, once it is filled. Just when this small scale incineration was starting to leave an impression, the waste woes of ineffective combustion and further disposal of the ashes pop up as a cause of concern.

Menstrual cups and reusable pads made out of layers of cloth are coming up as the green alternatives in answer to the non-compostable sanitary pads or lack of incinerators in many places. There is a dire need for compostable products along with clear directions in the packaging on how to decompose it.

While the availability and cost of menstrual cups are a challenge, cloth pads are battling the basic problem of hygiene. In a culture that shuns menstruating women and associated products to seclusion, many women cannot even dry their cloth pads out in the sun fearing social stigma. This leads to many women being affected by bacterial and fungal infections, urinary and reproductive tract infections, Hepatitis B, and even infertility.

However, until menstruation does not become a part of the mainstream conversation there is very little one can do to normalise the disposal of menstrual waste. The chatter on menstruation has grown louder with popular movements in the media rolling out campaigns, advertisements, tweets, and movies.

Films like Padman have pushed the agenda to the center-stage and has inspired many people to break the silence and stigma on menstruation. I remember being part of a CSR initiative, right after the release of Padman, which sought to distribute free sanitary napkins among the flood-affected women in Assam. While I coordinated relief distribution measures on the ground, I vividly remember the skepticism of people in accepting these pads. “You will give one packet and go away…but what will I do when she asks for another and I can’t get one for her? You are only spoiling her habits,” rebuked one of the men.

It is a nice gift but where will we throw these after use?” said one of the women, nodding her head towards the flooded plains around her. This logic beats the reason behind randomly distributing sanitary napkins in disaster-affected areas where organised ways of solid waste management could very possibly be suspended.

Along with a greater need to break the silence in order to make a green switch, there must also be robust political will that backs pioneering environmental legislation on the safe disposal of menstrual waste. Along with popular media, other stakeholders like educational institutions, political commitments, sanitary product makers, and solid waste management bodies need to move cohesively together or else menstrual waste will find a way to potentially keep polluting soil, air, and water.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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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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