#PeriodPaath: No One Deserves To Breathe In Others’ Used Menstrual Pads

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To Ministry Of Jal Shakti, Department Of Drinking Water and Sanitation

Subject: No one deserves to breathe in others’ used menstrual pads

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a slum in Shastri Market area of South Delhi, at a walking distance from Satya Niketan where young boys and girls studying at South campus of Delhi University often flock, eat, bond, have fun. The aroma of tandoori kebabs and baked pizzas is always in the air. At the same time, the slum, at least its dump ground and the surrounding areas reek of menstrual blood combined with human excreta. It’s hard to smell one at a time. I tried!

In an attempt to cross a few bridges

On talking to about 25 women living in this slum, here’s what we found out, in the context of menstrual pad usage and disposal:

  1. There are two common toilets in the slum; one (built by the government) remains relatively much cleaner than the other.
  2. All the homes have a bathroom that they use to take bath and sometimes, to pee. But to defecate, they use public toilets.
  3. Women majorly use sanitary pads during heavy flow days. However, they don’t change as frequently as they should. Cloth is used when the flow goes down but it is never washed; only thrown away.
  4. When women change sanitary pads in the public toilets, they leave the used ones inside, unwrapped, either on the floor, or on the window or behind a door or hanging from a nail. The same applies to used pieces of cloth.
  5. There are dustbins in the common area of public toilets, outside the cabins but only about 25% women throw their used sanitary pads and/or cloth in it.
  6. Families have dustbins inside their house but if women/girls throw the used pads in it, they either need to hide it below all other garbage so that men don’t spot it.
  7. All the garbage, from households and toilets is now dumped into the garbage pick-up truck that drives through one wide road of the slum every morning at 7 am.
  8. In the toilet built by the government, there’s a woman caretaker as well as a boy who cleans up. Both of them are residents of the slum. Among a set of women, there’s a sense of shame associated with the fact that someone from the opposite sex has to pick their used pads. However, another group of women believes that it’s his duty as he gets paid for doing it.
  9. In the past, there have been instances of physical violence between the caretaker/cleaner and the women using the facility.
  10. It’s hard to find out who is behaving positively and negatively, as no one will accept making a mess inside the cabins. They can always blame it on the one who used the facility before them.

The main problem at hand is that women are not disposing menstrual pads, in a way they should, leading to tension, discomfort and health hazards. There is an immediate need for behaviour change to overcome public health and sanitation risks. Further in the discussion, the following solutions came up:

  • Appointing a caretaker who would check after each woman uses the toilet cabin to see if she has left it unclean. She would point it out and make sure the women follow her instructions. In the opinion of locals, this woman should be capable of instigating fear and getting into physical violence, if required.If this is done, basic human rights will be violated. From what I know, getting manual labour for sanitation is clearly not a solution.
  • Installing dustbins inside the cabins, in such a way that children don’t touch it or put their hands inside it and catch germs. This has happened in the past. Additionally, community members have stolen the dustbins kept inside. So, they also need to be chained or fixed in the wall. Like this, in the picture below, with a cover on top.

    At a Delhi Metro station
  • Instructions to dispose the pads and cloth. There are certain women who, before getting married and hence, moving to the slum, were living in villages where they didn’t have access to toilets. For lack of guidance, they are behaving the way they behaved in an open ground, i.e. to throw the waste around and leave. They can be aided with audio-visuals (posters, IVR) inside the cabins on how to use an enclosed toilet and other practices to follow in order to keep it clean.
  • Continuous investment towards behaviour change communication until all the sanitary pad users dispose it properly. This is an on-going process and must be continued along with all other initiatives to ensure long-term positive change.

While we are growing up and living in a world with access to a range of options from sanitary pads (of all shapes, sizes and material) to menstrual cups, we need to acknowledge a world where people are trying to make the best use of what’s available and affordable. It’s only fair that they are supported in this attempt. I urge you to provide the suggested infrastructure improvement. For behaviour change, mobilizing resources and working closely with a community-based organization will immensely help. Will wait in hope of a hopeful response!

A concerned citizen

About The Author: Swati Saxena is a 2016 India Fellow, who worked with Chaitanya in rural and urban parts of Madhya Pradesh on financial inclusion of women self-help groups, and designed e-learning content on SHG federation model. She is currently running the India Fellow program and continuously getting to know the country better.

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