#PeriodPaath: Menstrual Rights Are Human Rights

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To

Municipal Health Officer

Public Health Department

North Delhi Municipal Corporation

This letter comes from a woman who since childhood has witnessed governments “showering” the country with numberless yojanas aimed for both Maa and Beti – the only positions women are expected to hold – Ma, Behen, Beti, Biwi – some man’s relative. But all the regimes till now have managed to keep a majority of the women limited to those flowery speeches only.

Humankind, right from the beginning, came face to face with menstruation. And till now, it is nothing new, despite the fact that we have successfully made it less discomfort for just a bunch of people. At the risk of sounding rude, I would like to remind not only the government of today but also the regimes of yesterday that a woman’s vagina is not just an object to gather sympathy and build rhetorics. It’s also an organ that bleeds and requires medical attention and social support.

So at the immediate level, I, as a woman resident of the locality, would like to raise the following demands.

  • At the teenager level

         (Scientific Education on Menstruation)

I cannot help but remember, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.”. A teenager who is first introduced to menstruation in the most unscientific way is bound to carry the burden of the patriarchal lenses throughout her/his life. To break the stigma around menstruation, we as a society, need to hit at its core. This is possible by:

  • Promoting scientific education on Menstruation: 
  • This should include educating all the students, irrespective of their gender on menstruation – causes, hygiene management, taboos and stigma,  progressive perspective towards it.
  • This education should not just be limited to schools because the harsh reality is that many children are not able to reach the doors of the schools. So to ensure that the awareness of menstruation reaches every teenager, NDMC should carry out rigorous campaigns in all the localities of the city. These campaigns should inform and educate everyone in the most progressive ways. They should hit the taboos of society by promoting a scientific outlook towards menstruation.

 

  •  At the level of working women  

           (Menstrual Leave)

The Global Journal of Health Science conducted research on the condition of Dysmenorrhea in women – the most common gynecological problem. It is defined as cramping pain in the lower abdomen occurring just before or during menstruation. 

The study was conducted on 1000 healthy females in the age bracket of 11-28 years. The sample was taken from varied socio-economic sections of society. It included women from different types of families, different family sizes, different religions, different family histories. The study revealed that around 70.2 per cent of women suffer from Dysmenorrhea and related symptoms during periods. And 68.3 per cent suffer from these issues every month. More than half of the women have to resort to absenteeism from work or school/college because of menstrual pain/symptoms. Most of the times, women have to take unpaid leave because the health condition during periods severely affects their daily routine activities including office work. And one-fourth of the women have to take analgesics (painkillers) to cope up with such health conditions.

So, paid Menstrual Leave becomes a medical necessity to make working life easier for women.

There are a few examples where paid menstrual leave is given:

  • Kerala in India was the first place in the world where the idea of menstrual leave was first implemented. An all-girls school in Kerala was first recorded to grant its students a menstrual leave in the year 1912.
  • The Japanese Labor Standards in 1947 to bring about a law allowing menstruating women to take paid leave.

 

  • General Demands

         (Sanitary Pads, Health Supplements, Menstrual Allowance)

The irony of India is that the goddesses enjoy privileges but the existent women are devoid of even basic rights. This reinforces patriarchy despite the country boasting to march towards the dream of being a superpower. We must not forget, “None of us is liberated until all of us are liberated.”

So to nurture a society which is inclusive of all genders we need some concrete steps to be taken:

  • DEA Corp is an organization which promotes the use of menstrual cups. It raised a serious concern that an average Indian woman spends around Rs. 300 per month in buying sanitary pads or tampons. Thus the annual expense of sanitary products becomes Rs 3600 (excluding the expenses of mineral supplements).

So, the NDMC with the support of the Central government must ensure that the menstruating population is provided sanitary pads and mineral supplements (especially iron and calcium). The government should take the responsibility to produce biodegradable sanitary napkins on a large scale. All the areas in the city should be well- equipped with Sanitary Pad Vending Machines which can be attached to the street light poles of the areas (wherever present). Otherwise, we can have small stalls at the corner of streets. Also, a woman can be employed as in charge. [ This can also  contribute a little to bring down unemployment in women.]

  • And until the free sanitary napkins are provided, the government should provide a Menstrual Allowance to at least the women and girls belonging to the underprivileged sections of the society.

Note: The women working in the unorganized sectors and the homemakers should also given their menstrual rights which include due menstrual allowance.

It is high time that the governments and the society, both crush their patriarchal cores and get rid of their self-chosen and comfortable limbo. They should be reminded that society is also made of humans other than men. Other genders are as much a part of this world, this race, this country, and this society. Sweeping them aside and turning a blind eye to their issues is not going to help. For the world to keep breathing, all the genders will have to be given their say, their rights, and their freedom.

Warm Regards,

A woman citizen(India) who refuses to give up her rights

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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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