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How Can We Ensure Better Menstrual Hygiene And Health For Women Workers?

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Women labourer at work
India’s informal sector stands at 81% of the total population out of which women’s participation in it lies around 94%.

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.

Open Defecation
With no proper facilities, open defecation is usually the only option for women working in informal sectors.|| Representational Image.

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.

Interventions are required in schools to give girls and women education on proper menstrual hygiene.

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.

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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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