#PeriodPaath: Here’s What Sex Workers Go Through During Periods!

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!

To,

Mr Bhupesh Baghel
Chief Minister Chhattisgarh

cc: Mr T.S. Singh Deo
Health Minister Chhattisgarh

Sir, I am writing this letter to bring to your attention the miserable condition of sex workers when it comes to menstrual hygiene.

Sex workers, as we all know are those have sexual intercourse for money. Very few do it voluntarily and almost all of them do it because of helplessness or because of being forced into the business. And also, there are some “unique” forms of prostitution like the Devadasi system.

But, in all the manifestations of prostitution, sex workers are treated as untouchables by the society. But, the worst thing is that they are treated as untouchables by the authorities also! They live in shady, dingy areas; almost all of them  work literally as bonded labourers; they hear disgusting remarks everyday all the time by everyone; their children live a life of misery; they suffer from various kinds of genital infections and other serious diseases like AIDS. But, the worst thing which they suffer from is the lack of menstrual hygiene.

Sir, we live in a progressive society and in a welfare state. We abide by the doctrine of “Parens Patriae” which means the state is the parent of the country. I want to raise a question – Is it ok for a parent to leave her daughter only because of the fact that she is a sex worker? And that too, when she had entered that profession out of helplessness or was made to enter that profession forcefully!

Sir, they are also human beings. They also have human rights. They also have right to life and to live with dignity. They also have right to say “NO” when they do not want to indulge in sexual inter course. They also have the right to expect compassion and sensitivity from the authorities specially the police, the lawyers and the judges whenever they are harassed or shamed or are claimed to be of loose character.

When, I was watching documentaries of red light areas, almost all the girls confessed that they want to do many things in their life but their life has become hopeless!

There are millions of sex workers in India and obviously Chhattisgarh is no exception. Though our state don’t have big red light areas like that in Kolkata (Sonagachi), Mumbai (Kamathipura) etc. but we do have small red light areas like “Dal Gali” in the capital city of Chhattisgarh. Not only that, so many girls from Chhattisgarh and specially the tribal girls from North and South Chhattisgarh are trafficked outside the state. So, we need your immediate attention towards this matter.

The statistics of menstrual hygiene in India is horrifying! There are 336 million menstruating women in India, of which 36 per cent use disposable sanitary napkins estimates the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI). Not only that, the following collage of the  images complied by Down to Earth gives a shameful report card of our country when it comes to menstruation.

Recently, in June 2018, Chhattisgarh came into the limelight when a news report revealed that a village in Chhattisgarh still practices the orthodox tradition of banishing women to an outhouse, which is also called “MC house”, during her periods. I cannot believe that such things still happen in our state.

A lot of schemes like the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme, SABLA scheme, Swachh Bharat Mission etc. are there. Apart from that NGOs like Dasra, Goonj etc. are giving their all when it comes to menstrual hygiene management. Still, the plight of our girls is miserable. If this is the plight of “normal” girls then imagine the situation of sex workers who are more vulnerable and are more prone to victimisation. They are in need of more care and attention but still they are the ones who are ignored by everyone!

No one can understand what a woman goes through during her periods. Menstrual cramps, the constant stress of getting stains on clothes, heavy bleeding and what not.

When, even taking a walk becomes a problem during periods, we cannot even imagine how does a sex worker manage to have sexual intercourse during those days. I want to quote a story from Quora which was also  posted by Goonj on their page. A question was posted on Quora  “Do prostitute work when they are on their periods?.” To which one lady, who was in the profession answered, “If we didn’t, it would be a 1 week unpaid vacation every month of which you are running a business or you have a career or just any job that you are dedicated to, it’s not practical.” She also mentioned, women use birth control to stop their periods or use a sponge to stop the flow of the blood.

Not only that, they live in shady and dingy places, where there they do not get adequate sunlight. A lot of them use cloth, which, obviously does not dry and which lead to infections etc.

Sir,  on the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene day, the Women and Child Development Minister of Chhattisgarh, Mrs Anila Bhedia said that “women should not consider “period” as shameful, but they should be proud of it”. But, sadly the society does not  think that prostitutes are human beings. The society thinks that they are like animals who are inferior, who do not have rights, who do not have a will, who do not have a choice.

It is a matter of shame that our mentality is still regressive and we are still judgmental towards them. For the government, every single life should matter. And sex workers also have a life. They are strong, independent women who have dignity and self respect.

Sir, it would bring a significant change, if you take cognizance of this matter. I would like to thank you for sparing precious minutes of your busy schedule to read this letter.

Yours Sincerely,

Pragya Uike

Law Student, Hidayatullah National Law University, Nava Raipur-Atal Nagar (C.G.)

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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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