#PERIODPAATH: make periods easier for homeless and working 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!


Vidya Thakur

MLA of Goregaon

Subject: Infrastructural development for better menstrual health

Respected Madam,

I hope this letter that I am writing to improve menstrual health near me finds you in the pink of your health. According to the ECI, only 4% of MLA/MP in Maharashtra are women hence I write this letter ecstatically and brimming with hope. 

In the hustling and bustling streets of Mumbai- a city that welcomes everyone. A city where dreams come true. One can find anything and everything in Mumbai apart from a clean public washroom, let alone a sanitary napkin/tampon vending machine and a proper disposal system. As a twenty two year old working women, the thought of suddenly getting into my period between transits sends chills down my spine. I am afraid to use public bathrooms which are firstly so scantily distributed and secondly so dirty. 

A survey published in NDTV said that 66% of girls and women manage periods without toilets in India. I naively limited these figures to rural India but soon the realisation of homeless women struggling with menstrual hygiene struck me. 

Looking at the bigger picture, I realised that I extremely privileged to be able to use a sanitary napkin that costs 14 rupees each. I am privileged to change and dispose my pads sooner or later. I am privileged to be able to keep myself clean. But what about the homeless women? How do they cope up with menstrual hygiene?  What about those women who live in places with shared washrooms? What about working women?

As a curious being, I hit the streets and  spoke to ten homeless women across goregaon between the ages of sixteen and forty five. Their truth was horrible. It paralysed me with fear. They said, “Didi, we use old cloth. Sanitary napkins are expensive and we don’t even know how to use them.” When I asked them how do they manage to change their cloth they said, “We rarely change it during the day. We have to pay two rupees for each time we use the public washrooms and they don’t let us wash our blood stained clothes there. ” “If we start using sanitary napkins what will we eat?” 

The need for Infrastructural development 

I was in utter shock. Periods are normal. It is a natural process which is important for the survival of human race. We can instruct young girls and teach them the normalcy of menstruation but actions speak louder than words.When our infrastructure is at par with our beliefs that’s when change takes place. Indian government is constantly trying to improve health conditions but is it truly enough?

  1. At the grass-root, we need to educate women about menstrual hygiene. They should be educated about the dangers of an overflowing pad and how periods are related to child-birth. 
  1. There is a dire need for more cleaner public washrooms which are free for homeless women. We need public washrooms with running water and soap equipped with proper sanitary napkin/tampon disposal system.
  1. A sanitary napkin/tampon vending machine should be installed in public places such as railway stations, airports, malls, colleges and schools. 

 4.Pads are a basic necessity like food and water and should be treated like one. Sanitary napkins should be made tax-free.   We also need a system like our current ration system that distributes feminine hygiene products against ration cards at a nominal rate. A period kit care can also be distributed every month at a nominal charge.

 Periods for the homeless can lead to embarrassment, worries, health woes and hunger. Hence, we need infrastructural development and we need it now. So, that no women has to ever chose between lunch and hygiene. 

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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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