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Seizing The Day At The ICPD Summit: Call For Action On Menstrual Health And Hygiene

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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.

By Kevin Mwanza: 

Menstrua matters

Elback Zeinabou Tari Bako, Niger’s Minister for the Advancement of Women and Child Protection of Niger, delivering her speech at ICPD summit in Nairobi

NAIROBI, Kenya – Research shows that 6 out of 10 girls in Kenya have never heard about menstruation until their first period, and 65 percent of menstruating girls and women in the nation cannot sustainably access sanitary pads.

Menstruation is rarely spoken about in daily life and many girls struggle with their periods each month. The silence around menstruation means girls are often unprepared for their periods and don’t know how to adequately manage them, or access pads.

But more than this, when they are going through these difficulties, there is no one they can ask for help. They suffer in silence, feeling ashamed.

Against such stark realities, concerned partners are seizing the opportunity at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Nairobi, to advocate for hundreds of millions of menstruators, and put the Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) agenda front and centre.

“Women and girls are limited from reaching their full potential because of menstruation-related issues. The fact that there are a lot of taboos and stigmas associated with menstruation compounds their problems,” said Virginia Kamowa, technical expert on menstrual hygiene management at WSSCC in an interview.

WSSCC, under the African Coalition on MHM that includes WASH United, UNFPA, Water Aid, The Case for Her and REJEA, will be co-hosting two events with the Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collectives at the ICPD 25 in Nairobi to raise the profile of menstrual health at the Summit.

A pre-event, on 11 November, at the Serena Hotel, will look at policy issues and panel discussions on MHH, and a break-away session at KICC on 12 November titled “Menarche to Menopause.”

The ICPD 25 summit, scheduled between 12 and 14 November, brings together more than 6,000 high-level delegates including heads of states, legislators, business leaders, civil society, grassroots organisations and the youth, to mobilise the political will and financial commitments to implement the ICPD Programme of Action.

These commitments will be centred on sexual and reproductive health issues, including achieving zero unmet needs for family planning information and services, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.

One of the stalls at the ICPD summit with women talking about menstrual health and hygiene.

Amidst these, WSSCC will be pushing for an urgent conversation that will champion and support inclusion of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) in the ICPD 25 commitments.

“I am hoping that the ICPD commitments will integrate menstrual health and hygiene as it relates to the ICPD 25 themes especially those related to sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and ending harmful practices,” said Kamowa.

Inadequate knowledge of sexual and reproductive health among adolescents has meant that over 3.9 million school-going girls aged between 15 and 19 undergo unsafe abortions annually, according to the World Health Organisation.

The statistic is bleak when narrowed down to developing regions, like Sub-Saharan Africa where more than 60 percent of adolescent men and women believed common misperceptions or had poor knowledge about the prevention of unintended pregnancy and HIV; one-third or more did not know of a source for contraceptives.

Each year, there are an estimated 2.7 million unintended pregnancies among adolescent women living in South Central and Southeast Asia, 2.2 million in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 1.2 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to WHO.

MHH stands in the middle of all these as it premises to adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health.

“Knowing about their bodies and fertility and managing their menstrual hygiene is an empowering skill that would help many navigate sexuality and reproduction with the right information and confidence,” Kamowa said.

MHH can be an entry point to sexual and reproductive health – helping to break the silence while increasing knowledge, understanding, and awareness of their bodies as a stepping stone for healthy practices.

WSSCC has also produced a video, which will be screened on Tuesday, to showcase what period poverty is about and why confronting stigma and taboos around menstruation is everyone’s responsibility.

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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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