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Minority Communities Address Challenges With Access To Sanitation At 3-Day Workshop

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From 16th to 18th December, members belonging to diverse communities from all over India got together at Parmarth Bhawan in Rishikesh for a 3-day workshop organised by Global Interfaith Wash Alliance (GIWA) and Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council to discuss issues around sanitation and present them to relevant decision makers. 

The workshop was attended by individuals belonging to migrants and refugee groups, slum dwellers, farmers, senior citizens, women’s groups, representatives of Ojus Medical Institute, representatives from the LGBTQ community and several other minority communities who spoke up about access to clean water and toilets built under the Swachh Bharat Mission. 

Despite being declared open defecation free by the Prime Minister in 2019, 44% of the population in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar defecate in the open. 

During the workshop, Arun Kumar, a representative from the Dalit community said, “According to me, the funds dedicated for the building of toilets should be directly sent to the villages instead of the mukhiyas and jal sahiyas, this will help curb corruption.”

He further added that “Dalits have faced a lot of discrimination. People believe that they have no identity in society. I hope that through this workshop by GIWA and WSSCC, we can help address this discrimination and end it.”

According to another participant – Martha Hansda who represented persons with disability,

“Every new policy that is made completely ignores the needs of people with disability. If you just take the example of the toilets being built by the government, they neither have provisions to accommodate wheelchairs, nor proper commodes for seating. We discussed all of this at the workshop yesterday, hopefully it will help change things.”

Hansda also said that even if we disregard normal situations, it is especially hard for women with disability during menstruation. While building toilets, the government not only needs to keep in mind the needs of persons with disability, but also the needs of menstruating persons with disability.

Tushar Ghorke, a representative of the urban poor and homeless community spoke about the wide challenges faced by them, “We live in a night shelter, there is a toilet there but it is filthy – people throw garbage, spit on it. There is no facility to clean it. If the state can pay better attention to sanitation and provide us with the necessary infrastructure, then discrimination against us would also be addressed. 

Another member of the community Smita Kamble had to say, “We’ve learnt a lot of new things at Parmarth Niketan. The night shelter we live in is in a pathetic condition, no efforts are made to keep it clean and hygienic. When we talk about menstruation, women in the grassroots still don’t have enough money to even buy sanitary napkins, on top of that, government toilets are shut at night.”

Sultana, who is a sex worker talked about how her work leads to a lot of discrimination. They can’t even talk about menstruation because their rights and needs are completely disregarded. “I have gone from house to house to spread awareness among people, but we still don’t have a toilet in our house. After endless visits and requests to the Nagar Palika, we were given ₹4000 to build a toilet. Even within our community, most women don’t even have a house, forget a toilet.” Sultana also said, “Those given the responsibility of building toilets by the Nagar Nigam don’t even survey the area properly. I’ve been a sex worker for 20 years, if I buy a sewing machine and start making clothers, will I get any customers? 

The government needs to help rehabilitate us to improve our quality of life. So many of us have faced violence, and when we try to report it to the police, FIRs aren’t even filed. They tell us, ‘you’re sex workers, what violence complaint can you have?’”

Another major challenge faced by sex workers is discrimination by safai karamcharis who refuse to collect waste from their areas because it contains condoms. 

Neetu, a transwoman pointed out that they can’t even talk about access to toilets when their identity itself is ignored. They don’t have basic documentation. “When we don’t have our own homes, how can we talk about toilets? The government is not helping us in any way.”

Adding to the conversation, Kalpana, an Adivasi activist added, “The tanks made have no lids, the toilers have no doors. In rural areas, how do you expect people to talk about toilets when they have never seen one? One of the biggest challenges we face in villages is that residents don’t use the toilets built by the government.”

During these three days, women from across the country were given more information on menstrual health and hygiene by the Menstrual Lab. Apart from taboos around menstruation, information on alternate products like biodegradable pads, menstrual cups and tampons was also provided. 

Another key highlight of the workshop was the critical assessment of the toilets built by the government, and the discrimination faced by minority communities.

Anil Sharma from the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, in his address to the participants said, “The role of the central ministry is limited to providing technical and financial aid. The responsibility of implementing the policies lies with the state governments. As far as corruption is concerned, it is crucial that citizens register their complaints against it.”

Addressing the grievances of the minority communities, WSSCC’s technical expert Enrico Muratore Aprosio stated, “The challenges faced by communities from all over India should definitely be addressed, especially since they are a part of the decision-making process through this workshop. We have faith that the government will come up with the necessary solutions.”

Trupti Ashtankar, WASH Support Officer at WSSCC added, “This workshop has been an enriching experience for not only the participants who have joined us from different parts of India, but also for the facilitators and everyone else who has been a part of the discussions. It’s main objective was to address SDG – 6 (clean water and sanitation) from the perspective of these 14 communities, which we have successfully been able to do.”

Assistant Registrar of the National Human Rights Commission Indrajeet Kumar also acknowledged the discrimination faced by minority communities and observed, “There are obvious flaws in the toilets being built under the Swachh Bharat Mission, which need to be solved immediately. The open discussion we had today is the first step towards change.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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