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The ‘Pad-Emic’: This Is What Happens When Policymaking Isn’t Inclusive

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

By Deepak K.G.

Periods don’t stop for pandemics. In times of disasters, let alone pandemics, it’s easy to overlook basic essentials for people around dignity,” said Dana Marlowe (Founder,‘I support girls’ organisation, Washington).

The ‘Pad-emic’

When alarming situations like pandemics occur, the whole world starts framing their priorities. The policymakers, officially, and the society, customarily, set these rankings, and the whole world has to follow it, whether they like it or not. But, what if these priorities satisfy only mainstream society?

Putting the lens on menstrual hygiene, its practice has become more challenging amidst the pandemic. The issue turned out to be a hot button globally, due to the outcry of some women health worker in China. As the hospitals in Hubei province, China, had removed sanitary pads from their essential supply list, the women health workers had to bleed in their PPE kits.

Representational image only. Despite having 121 million sanitary pad users (NFHS’18), sanitary pads were not included in the Essential Commodity Act until March 30, 2020!

Be it China or elsewhere, menstruation is a normal physiological process and hygiene maintenance is essentiality. The Indian scenario is not very different. It would be a bit shocking for you to know that, despite having 121 million sanitary pad users (NFHS’18), sanitary pads were not included in the Essential Commodity Act until March 30, 2020!

Arunachalam Muruganantham, otherwise known as the ‘Padman of India‘, said that most of the sanitary pad manufacturing units were lying idle due to insufficient raw material, thereby reducing its supply.

Although the Chief Secretaries of all States were informed to act according to the change, retail shops are giving priority to masks and sanitisers as pads remain ‘out of stock’ at many places.

Consistent sanitary pad users are only 42% of the total menstruating people in the country. Among the rest, one cohort which requires special attention is the school-going adolescent girls. For them, the only source to access pads are schools, where pads are supplied under the Kishori Shakti Yojana.

As the schools are now closed, the girls are facing a crisis. In Rajasthan, the State Child Rights Commission intervened to solve the issue to an extent and in Lucknow, Sakhi vans took the role of distributing pads. Still, the vast rural pockets of the country are out of the distribution network.

A person holding a pad.
For representation only.

Hindered Menstrual Hygiene Practices Due To ‘Physical Distancing’ Norms

Due to restricted social mobility, women are unable to go out and buy pads themselves. They are hesitant to tell the men of the family to purchase due to the perceived stigma involved. The unexpected lockdown has caused thousands of migrant women to be stuck in various camps.

For them as well, as for slum dwellers, it is challenging to clean themselves in common toilets due to physical distancing norms. Also, the availability of clean water has significantly reduced because of frequent hand washing and hygiene measures practised to counter the COVID-19. For migrant women in transit to their homes, irregular or inadequate change of pads can lead to Reproductive Tract Infections and cases have already been reported.

A Flicker Of Hope

Apart from government interventions, NGO’s and other civil society organisations are taking their own roads in bringing hope to menstruating populations. An innovative project named Baala has already distributed 18,000 sanitary pads.

Lucknow-based organisation Yeh Ek Soch (YES) Foundation, has been operating since 2012 to provide stigma-free comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, and also sessions on MHM to aid beneficiaries in menstrual hygiene. So far in this lockdown as well, YES has distributed 1,163 sanitary pads to the menstruating population. Few other organisations working parallelly are Kshitij Education Rural Development Trust of UP and Deepanjan Trust in Delhi.

But, only gender-sensitised policymaking can usher in empowered and dignified womanhood, during and after this pandemic. It is well evident that gender inequities deepen in crisis scenarios. Unless our mentality widens to fit ourselves in each other’s shoes; the priorities will keep snubbing the unprivileged, the oppressed and the deprived, the marginalised, the denounced, and the ones who bled into their own clothes.

About the author: The author is an MPH student at TISS, and a Rachita Campaigner, Period Sakhi

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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