#PeriodPaath: Blood On Our Hands

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!

Smt. Adv. Yashomati Chandrakant Thakur (Sonawane),

Hon’ble Minister
Women and Child Development Department

Dear ma’am,

It is said that our bodies are heavenly, godly even, able to bear the brunt of birth and of bloodshed. But why is that we are seen as impure when we are at our most vulnerable? At our most painful? Why is it that the blood we shed becomes a curse for us to not sustain our bodies? Why, is having a womb a sin? These are some questions that come to my mind when I think of the several of women in villages like Beed being womb-less, less by choice and more by design.

The widespread issue of hysterectomies being performed on women without any reason to justify the huge procedure is commonplace in villages like Beed which fall under the several villages in the sugarcane belt of India. As I pass by the many villages in Kolvan and Mulshi, I see women with backs that seem perpetually bent and broken. Sugarcane knives in hand and tiredness in their eyes, they toil under the sun for their meal of the day.

But I’m not here to preach for your pity. I’m here to ask for action. In order for them to work effectively, several women in their 20s undergo this life-altering procedure of removing their uterus. Medically, hysterectomy is seen as the last straw to any such prevailing condition. But in the Marathwada region, the rising number of hysterectomies is clearly a cause for concern.

Why do these women choose to go through such a harsh and expensive procedure? The drought-stricken land of the Beed district makes their lives harder as they have to work under harsh conditions for meagre harvest. Two-and-a-half tonnes a day, that’s how much sugarcane they harvest when they work. Women like us, with more calloused palms and no wombs. Does that make them less of a woman than us?

The employers of such women view menstruation as a mere hindrance to their productivity, an utter disregard for their health and well-being. This disregard can perhaps be attributed to the taboo associated with the topic of menstruation in India, more particularly in rural India. Inability to work means a fine. A fine means no food. Why can’t they work? They bleed, is that a mistake? Something they did wrong?

They go in good faith to consult their doctors about pain and discharge, something we all who bleed experience but don’t know others do. They call their doctors well-educated and so they put their bodies, their means of life in their hands. And these doctors tell them to get rid of their wombs. A family which can not earn if they cannot use their labour has to pay to never go through labour. They go through the expensive procedure of removing all or parts of their uterus, as unnecessary as the removal may be. They consider this a blessing, even with the huge debt that it incurs. Is this what we meant by healthcare for all?

The side effects of the procedure are high, with joint pain to low calcium. The lack of nutritious diet paired with such an incredibly invasive procedure being performed results in them having lost their ability to menstruate and to give birth, ridding them of their choice. I consider this to be a situation where they are stuck, though one can argue that these women made the choice themselves. They were not provided the details of the side effects of the procedure nor of its lack of necessity. Moreover, the lack of dialogue in the country regarding menstruation is also a factor. They do not know how to alleviate pain, they don’t  even know that this pain is normal.

Contractors push them to get the procedure so that they can reap more benefits from the workers. Such exploitation of the women by equating their worth to their productivity is sickening. The Hindu states that “State data showed that 99 private hospitals in Beed district have carried out 4,605 hysterectomies since April 2016.” Such incentivising of women’s lack of health awareness for capital income, whether it be for doctors or the contractors is something that I hope warrants action.

I hope that there will menstrual awareness campaigns in rural areas, with more female doctors so that the rural women feel comfortable talking about their intimate health with them. Awareness is key as women often tend to rely on doctors due to lack of information about their own bodies. Normalising conversation around menstrual health is not easy in such neck of the woods, but gradual introduction of such topics in rural areas is key.

Campaigns can engage local women leaders so that such information is not misused by the people who already exploit them. Though this may seem like a stretch, involving the men of such areas in the conversation helps as they are able to empathise with their wives or family members. Moreover, the reasons behind performing such a procedure must be adequate and such a protocol must be implemented within private hospitals as well as public. If necessary, a public health notice must be communicated in order for women to refer to reliable sources to make a choice.

Moreover, the communication of the side effects of the procedure must also be compulsorily communicated with the women. These are acts that can be implemented at a medical level. Regular contact must be maintained with the women to make sure that their contractors do not exploit them, though this may be extremely challenging due to the migratory nature of the community. These are some ways to address this burning issue.

The pain that these women have to go through makes me shiver. Potentially threatening their future just so that they can survive to see it seems too cruel of a practice. Moreover the unnecessary nature and high price tag attached to it, literally and figuratively adds to the weight of the issue. The womb is not something that we need to dispose of to live, in day-to-day cases. The discomfort of open defecation, lack of dialogue around menstruation, pain of daily labour and growing poverty are all aspects of their lives that plague their well-being.

Womb-less, the newspapers and journals call them. Right-less, I would say. Lack of their right to information is blatant in this issue. The blood they shed every month should not be their issue of their survival. The blood they shed during such unnecessary and invasive procedures is an issue of their survival. And for every single woman who sheds blood on such operating tables, we have more blood on our hands as responsible citizens.
Hoping for action.

Sincerely,

a girl.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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