#PeriodPaath: It Is Time We Say Yes To Blood!

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!

Vaishnavi Pandey, Class X

Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar

 

To,

Mr. Harsh Vardhan

Minister of Health & Family Welfare

 

As a young girl of the 21st century India, it gives me immense pride to see India thriving for progress in all fields while laying blueprints to achieve progress inclusive of sustainability, but I believe we lack potholes in Menstrual Hygiene Management- partly because of cultural and societal reasons and partly because of the lack of knowledge which is not being acquired by citizens because of the taboos, myths and embarrassment associated with menstrual hygiene. It is indeed deplorable that a natural biological process can be linked to impurity, contamination and virtues of being unclean.

 

Thus it is very important for the government to efficiently execute its Menstrual Hygiene System (MHS) in rural and urban areas both. This can be done in three major steps:

  1. Articulating and spreading awareness, information and confidence to manage menstruation with safety and dignity using hygienic materials.
  2. Providing adequate water supply and restricted safe space for washing and bathing with soap.
  • Providing safe disposal of used menstrual absorbents with privacy and dignity.

 

According to World Health Organization, a person aged between 10–19 years is considered as an adolescent. The transition period between the childhood and adulthood is called adolescence, which is marked with the growth and development of the child. During this period, physical, psychological, and biological development of the child occurs. It is recognized as a special period in a girl’s life cycle, which requires special attention. Menarche is an important biological milestone in a woman’s life as it marks the onset of the reproductive phase of her life or the menstrual cycle.

 

UNICEF’s 2014 report on menstrual hygiene in India and other trusted sources tell us that:

  • 71% of the girls in India remain unaware about menstruation until they go through it themselves.
  • 70% of menstruating mothers consider menstruation as dirty.
  • 43% of our population agrees that menstruation is a punishment’s for a girl’s sins or simply God’s curse.

 

These are just some of the statistics, which very well signify the need to make people aware of what the menstrual cycle is and what menstruation hygiene system is. I believe that this can be done by starting from the grass-root level by contacting schools while integrating and connecting our rural and urban populations. Female students from private and government schools in urban cities from all around the country should be educated about the female body, adolescence, the reproductive phase, keeping the genital area and your surroundings clean and the right methods to dispose off sanitary absorbents. Selected students from these centres can then be taken to nearby rural areas to educate fellow female students, having acquired the necessary knowledge.

School teachers and headmasters play a vital role in society and training students about menstrual hygiene can help us reach a wider set of people, boys and girls both. Also, I believe it’s high time that our community leaders, civil officers and self help groups become vocal about women needs to make menstrual hygiene a topic of social and biological concern and not just a taboo.

 

The next step is to provide menstruating women and girls with water supply, soap facilities and private areas for washing and bathing purposes. For this it is firstly very important to deploy washrooms and toilets at all public places with water and soap facilities, especially in schools, colleges and offices where menstruating women spend considerable amount of time. It is most appropriate when these are separate for males and females. Also, it is advisable if these are maintained and cleaned regularly with provisions with easy access to females with physical disabilities. Such cubicles should have enough space for females to change their napkin/cloth during the cycle and wash themselves. Also a well-positioned mirror can help females to check for stains. The existence of sanitary napkin vending machines is a relatively newer concept and in my opinion, is a breakthrough to provide girls and women sanitary absorbents in times of emergency.

 

Lastly, it is very important to have safe disposal system for menstrual wastes. Different women use different sanitary absorbents depending upon the availability, cost and cultural practices. Each of these, have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, strips of saris, bed sheets, towels are easily available, washable and hence re-usable, however it is essential to note that such mediums are unhygienic, have a risk of bacteria invasion if not washed properly with adequate water and soap. Commercially available disposable sanitary napkins are probably not the best option but are way better than their alternatives. Hence, it is important for the state and district governments to provide commercially available cotton sanitary napkins/pads at low costs to people living in rural areas and ensure they are well within the reach of the general public living in urban areas as well. The government hence needs to ensure he availability, accessibility and affordability of sanitary pads.

 

Furthermore, talking about the methods of safe disposal of soiled pads/cloths/cotton wool, it is essential for all washrooms to have mobile bins to dispose of sanitary absorbents. However these absorbents must be thrown by first covering them to reduce the risk of odour and bacteria escape with newspapers and then should be disposed off in bins which should be preferably inside each cubicle. Hence there is also a need to provide newspapers to safely cover disposable soiled sanitary absorbents. A lot of these, soiled absorbents are non-biodegradable and should be burnt in large incinerators while the biodegradable ones can be buried in pits for safe decompositions. Therefore, it is advisable for the pits and incinerators to be placed near school or they should be centrally located in a district.

 

If we are able to successfully complete all these major goals, we’ll be able to reach the pinnacle of menstrual hygiene and furthermore a healthy women workforce which would indirectly lead to a happy and healthy population contributing to the overall development of the country. It is my undying faith in the institutions of this country that I hope for the better on the previously mentioned lines and bring this letter to a closure with hope and belief.

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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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