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As Migrant Women Head Home, Let’s Hope They Only Bleed When They Reach Their Homes

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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.

Red Dot Challenge on social media

“Aaj bhi yeh red dot campaign chal rahi hai? Par kyu? Mujhe toh lagta tha periods na hona ek problem hai. But periods hona kabse problem ho gaya? Yeh feminism nai hai! It’s my birth right!”

“Shhh… periods aa gaye! Yaar iss mai, yeh ‘shhhhh’ karne ki kya baat hai? Periods hi toh hai! I am a girl, I am born with it. Iss mai itni badi baat kya hai?”

Menstruation or menses or periods is defined as the natural bodily process of releasing blood and associated matter from the uterus through the vagina at a period of approximately one lunar month or one menstrual cycle.

The Current Scenario In India

Menstruation is a monthly occurrence for the 1.8 billion girls, women, transgender men and non-binary persons of reproductive age. Yet, as reported by UNICEF in 2019, millions of menstruators across the world are denied the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way. During the pandemic, the condition has even worsened, especially for adolescent girls and women working as daily wagers and migrant workers.

As migrant women are heading back to their hometowns, either on foot or “closely cramped” in a truck, let’s hope they only get their periods when they reach their homes. With no washrooms along highways and insufficient money to buy sanitary napkins, they have no choice but to use available resources like a used cloth, leaves, etc. during this time.

During, the first lockdown period, from March 25, 2020, menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pads and napkins were not a part to the list of the essential items, and the easy access to these products was curtailed for millions of citizens in the country for a duration of 21 days. (This came as a shock even to me as I too faced this crisis.) As reported by MSMEs and small entrepreneurs, production and distribution of sanitary pads had significantly slowed down.

Ironically, on March 30, 2020, when sanitary pads were added to the list of the essential items eligible for supply chain operations during the lockdown, they were out of stock everywhere. I too ordered sanitary napkins from Amazon and Big Basket, but my orders were cancelled. If this was the situation for me, I wonder what happened with the migrant workers and daily wagers.

Interaction of the author with government school girl about periods
Author’s interaction with a school girl to understand the condition of MHM in India.

With the lockdown being extended again and again, schools across the country are shut for months. Girls in government schools cannot avail the facility of free sanitary pads. The distribution of iron and folic acid tablets is also affected, posing serious implications for the health of these girls in their reproductive age. Moreover, parents of these girls are either daily wagers or maidservants who are currently not working or have lost their jobs and have no tangible income to buy menstrual hygiene products.

Female daily wagers and migrant workers on the road and women in quarantine or isolation facilities may even experience discrimination and stigma more acutely due to their periods. In the current situation, non-accessibility to safe and hygienic menstrual products is posing serious health implications. These individuals may even use their menstrual hygiene products for longer than recommended hours and may also opt for unhygienic alternatives.

In slums, where many are dependent on community toilets, social distancing measures and mobility restrictions make it all the more difficult for girls and women to use toilets as frequently as they need to during their periods. Additionally, procuring water for washing needs during menstruation and the lack of privacy to change and discard used materials are barriers for safe menstrual hygiene practices.

Menstrual Health Hygiene: A Human Right

According to Human Rights Watch (2016), WASH United and UNICEF, the necessity of managing menstruation and society’s response to menstruation are linked with women’s and girls’ human rights and gender equality. Women and girls encounter difficulties in managing hygiene during menstruation when they lack the enabling environment to do so.

Notably, when they have difficulty exercising their rights to water, sanitation and education, they will likely have difficulty managing their menstruation. When women and girls cannot manage their menstrual hygiene, it can negatively impact their rights, including the rights to education, work and health.

Globally, May 28 is celebrated as Menstrual Hygiene Day. Menstrual Health Hygiene (MHH) is a key objective of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Women and girls’ access to MHH is a component of gender-responsive WASH services; SDG 6.2 acknowledges the right to menstrual health and hygiene:

By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

Without considering needs for safe and dignified menstruation, the world cannot achieve the vision for sanitation and hygiene described under Goal 6. Also, the stress and shame associated with menstruation can negatively affect mental health, and unhygienic sanitation products may make girls susceptible to reproductive tract infections — all affecting SDG health outcomes (Goal 3).

Focal Points Of Action At The Community Level:

  • Public-Private Partnerships for easy accessibility and free distribution among individuals of below poverty line families, daily wagers and migrant workers. State governments should make arrangements at the nearest Anganwadi centres/district hospitals/petrol pumps/food distribution centres, located at highway crossings where menstrual hygiene products can be made available, especially for the migrant workers.
  • Mass movement, awareness and self-reliance – Daily wagers, migrant workers and women and girls from BPL families should be made “atmanirbhar” by teaching them the art and science of making hygienic cloth pads at home. Further such sustainable public health models should be scaled for livelihood and earnings.
  • Padman in every homeRemember the movie Padman! Yes, we need a “Padman” in every household, irrespective of it being located in an urban or rural setting. Men have a strong influential role to play when it comes to women’s rights and access to safe menstrual hygiene practices. Also, organisations like Jatan Sansthan, Rajasthan, are running a Menstrual Health Promotion and Livelihood Initiative. They impart skills for production techniques and other details of how to manage and run a cloth pad production centre.

“Jab hum ek mask ghar par bana sakte hai, toh pad kyu nai?”

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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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