#Periodपाठ: A Light On The Stereotypical, “Sacred” Issues Of The Indian Women

Editor’s Note: This post is an entry for the #Periodपाठ writing contest, a unique opportunity for you to write a letter and stand a chance of winning up to ₹30,000! The contest is organised by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC. Find out more here and submit your entry!

Meghna Shukla,

D 58/33 A, Sigra,
Varanasi,
Uttar Pradesh,
221010

22/01/2020

Saurabh Srivastava,
The MLA Cantonment,
D63/6B-87 Shivaji Nagar Tulsipur, Mahmoorganj,
Varanasi,
Uttar Pradesh,
221010

Dear Sir,

I, Meghna Shukla, am a resident of your constituency. I, like most of the other residents of your constituency, have faith in you that you would listen to our problems and do your best to provide suitable solutions to them. It is with that faith that, I am writing to you, to bring into your notice the laxity of menstrual hygiene in your constituency.

I would like to empower my words, “lack of menstrual hygiene” by illustrating a material example, or rather, a material consequence of the lack of the basic hygiene that every woman needs.
It was a calm morning, and I was out in the balcony of my house, when I spotted our female domestic help, running to the washroom as if her world was crashing down. I was overwhelmed when I saw blood all over the chair she was sitting in.

I assumed, it was the onset of her menstrual period of the month, and perhaps, she did not see it coming or might have forgotten to change the sanitary pad. My heart started thumping as she did not come out of the washroom for as long as 80 minutes. Concerned, I knocked on the door to ensure she was okay. Sobbing, she said, “I am going to die”. I was worried because there was none at home, except for my younger brother, who rushed to help as soon as I called for him.

After we somehow managed to get her out of the washroom, I tried to talk to her in private – given the fact that she was hesitant to say anything in front of my brother, which shines a light on the stigma around menstruation. She told me that it pained every time she bled. To my shock, I found that she was using a cloth – a dirty cloth!

Hurriedly, I took her to a gynaecologist. We got some tests done, after which, we found out that she had developed an infection in her vagina that had spread to the uterus. After further examination and talks with her, the doctor said that, the primal cause of the infection was that, instead of sanitary pads, she had been using dirty cloths for 8 long years! She also shone light on the fact that, a few months ago, she had been using public toilets, which used to be very dirty as they were hardly cleaned and both, men and women used the same toilets at their whims – something that she told the doctor.

I was appalled and overwhelmed. I asked her, as to why she didn’t use the sanitary pads, when the government had rolled out a scheme to make them available for an amount as nominal as Rs. 6, to which, she replied, “It is just on the papers; nobody sells them.” The poor soul had tried buying them by going to every shopkeeper and chemist in her locality, who laughed it off in her face. She also said that nobody in her locality actually knows about the scheme and women still use cloths and even leaves!

She got her uterus removed. It did not stop at that; her husband abandoned her for talking to someone else – a doctor – about private, and, “sacred” issues of the Indian women.

Prior to writing this letter, I was a bit annoyed that none of the media outlets had written anything on the issues of menstrual hygiene in Varanasi. There was almost no substantial piece of information, except for my personal experience with something like this. It was then that, I came across a piece of survey, wherein, it was concluded that out of 650 female respondents, only about 200 actually used sanitary pads.

It makes me sick as woman, to realise that, when as a country, we are all fighting for women empowerment, we still have stereotypes and improper education and execution of policies coming back to haunt us.

I know that, when I am writing this, I am writing for all the, “men and women” in your constituency – we have faith in you, and we have faith in us. We can change the looks of the things. Therefore, on behalf of all the men and women in your constituency, I request you to ensure –

1) Better menstrual hygiene

2) Educating our community- your constituency – about menstruation, in order to break stereotypes and make people aware.

3) There is proper implementation of policies and that people are benefitted they way they are supposed to be.

4) There are surveys done at regular intervals, to keep a reality check in place.

5) Incidents like this and the actual condition of women are brought to the notice of the people; so that, we can all collectively support and work hard to be the forces for change.

I hope, you will consider my words and do the needful.

Yours sincerely,
Meghna Shukla

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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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