One such point of ignorance which tightly grips the workplaces of the informal sector is the lack of proper facilities—poor hygiene, inadequate sanitation and lack of access to toilets, to name a few. With no legal or financial aid available to workers working in the unorganized sector, they are also addressed with no dignity, lack of privacy, no medical leaves, no timely and decent wages, no social security, etc.
All the problems clubbed together have made women working in this sector unable to tend to their menstrual hygiene and health.
Since women’s needs are always met with little to no attention as compared to men’s, the lack of basic sanitation facilities continues to be seen at homes and workplaces. Globally, 2.6 billion people have no proper toilets in or around their homes. In India, the figure stands at 650 million.
Research has also led to find a significant connection between the level of education one is getting and their need for proper sanitation and toilet facilities. It shows, the higher the education level one has, the more urgent their demand would be to use proper toilets and sanitation facilities.
Menstruation has always been a taboo topic to discuss in our homes and schools, so much so that 71% of girls are unaware of the concept until they get their period. With no proper facilities to cater to menstrual needs in the school, girls prefer to drop out as soon as they hit puberty, thus, hampering their need for education. The lack of education ends up forcing women to do menial jobs later on in order to sustain their livelihood; thus leading to such heavy participation of women in the informal sector.
With no proper facilities catering to women’s health and needs in the informal sector, they end up using unsafe methods of defecation and unhygienic ways of disposing of menstrual products.
Many of them tend to just ignore the need for defecating during work hours. Even if they do, open defecation is the only solution available at places without toilets, resulting in RTIs and UTIs as well as a higher risk of getting sexually assaulted. Unhygienic disposal methods, like burning the napkin or throwing it away in open water, have environmental consequences too. Lack of privacy at such crowded working places further adds to the problem.
The solution to this lies in coming up with a proper Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) program.
MHM could be elaborated as where women and adolescent girls are using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period, using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. It is necessary they understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.
To ensure effective and efficient MHM practices, both government and private sectors need to collaborate and choose a middle ground to work on. At places like schools and colleges, the need to provide basic facilities comes upon the Ministry of Education. In sectors like agriculture and home-based workplaces, the local government and the Health Ministry should be majorly held accountable. When it comes to factories and industries run by private companies, the onus of catering to everyone’s needs lies on the corporate itself.
The workers should also be allowed to form Trade Unions and Trade Associations so that they can hold more power over their basic needs and work environment.
Together, the government and corporates should be addressing the need for WASH facilities, that is Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, at all levels of the informal economy. The first step to achieving this is addressing the social stigma around periods holistically.
If more people are aware of the consequences attached to ignoring menstrual health, more people will adopt behavioural changes to work towards proper sanitation facilities. At the policy level, more governmental interventions need to take place, and more regulations need to be added in order to make the government more accountable towards the conditions of such workers.
More pay and additional public toilets and baths need to be built everywhere with 24 hours of running water, dustbins and free sanitary napkin counters. Educational campaigns should be initiated to make people aware of safe disposal methods and safe defecation practices. More research is also needed on women’s health issues and more effective and sustainable ways they can be tackled. Lastly, if interventions are held at the basic level, right from schools and at homes, it could become a lot easier to tackle such issues at higher levels like workplaces.
Menstrual Hygiene Management is a need, and it’s high time people in power start addressing it.