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Hostel Washroom Horror Stories That Led Me To Ditch Sanitary Napkins

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.

Seven years ago, I shifted to Delhi from the south of the country for higher education. It was very difficult to get a hostel in the initial allotments of my university, so one of my friends (my school friend joined the university earlier) was kind enough to share her hostel room with me. It was a ‘hotel’ like a hostel room with a spacious room with beautiful balconies, a big mess hall with various kinds of food, a gym hall, visiting rooms, etc. Everything was very new to me; especially the large common washroom consisting of several bathrooms, pantry area, and washbasins with mirrors.

My excitement did not last long. One fine morning, I found it very very dirty, somebody had left behind used sanitary pads inside the bathroom. Toilets and washbasins were equally dirty because there was no water as it was peak summer. Then I realized that there was no mechanism to dispose of the sanitary napkins except a separate waste bin. This view became normal and whatever the condition, there were sanitary workers to clean it, and students had taken it for granted.

After a month, I got allotted to another hostel, the very old hostel building on the campus. Unlike the previous hostel, cats and dogs were regular visitors here and seriously posed a threat to hygiene and sanitation. We were supposed to wrap the sanitary napkins within a newspaper and deposit in a separate small dustbin placed in front of the washroom wall. But most of the times, we saw bits and pieces of used pads in the whole corridor as the first sight in the morning. I have ruined many days in the hostel due to this incident, I hope nobody wants to wake up to a scene like that.

Image used for representational purposes only.

Yes, we had a hostel committee, we complained, we had meetings, we tried to sensitize the hostel mates but all efforts were vain because there was this debate of invading into the animals’ natural habitat. I have a diploma in health and sanitation, so this problem annoyed me more than any other student on my floor, but still, I had no option left other than putting the napkins in the same bin. Consider the situation of sanitary workers who clean the areas, they are also as helpless as the students.

The Urgent Need To Shift To Sustainable Menstruation

A few years later, I got to know about menstrual cups from the same friend and I bought one from my fellowship money, it cost me around Rs. 700 including delivery charge. I found it difficult to use it for the first time but I watched some YouTube videos and managed the process. Anyways, I decided to make a change and I have been using the cup for the last few years and the experience has been beyond words. It is something magical among menstrual products: reusable, economical, eco-friendly, and effective. How I wish every menstruating woman were using it and keeping our environment clean and free.

Times of pandemics and other natural disasters bring so much emphasis on sustainable menstruation. Women who menstruate have to dispose of around 200 kg of menstrual products in their lifetime. Sanitary pads are popular among women and it takes up 500-800 years for decomposition. If women need two packets of sanitary pads in a month, imagine the volume of waste accumulated by millions of women across the world. We should consider the environmental impact in addition to the personal health risks as sanitary napkins are made up of plastic and other unhealthy components.

The first generation of menstrual cups got patented in the 1860s and the modern menstrual cups were invented in 1937. After these many years, several beauty products came into the industry and got popular among women, but not the menstrual cups. In a country where the mere mention of menstruation itself considered taboo, menstrual cups are no different. There are so many myths regarding menstrual cups existing in the society like, virgins cannot use menstrual cups; they will go inside the body; cups will affect the elasticity of the vagina. Strong awareness is needed to eliminate the myths as these issues have been proven wrong scientifically.

Low Accessibility, Affordability And Period Poverty

Menstrual cups : Top five facts
Image used for representational purposes only.

Menstrual cups are not ‘considered’ economical for all, even though they are cost-effective and need a one-time investment for a minimum of 10 years. Seeing these crises around the world, it’s high time for the government to take up this matter and for other agencies to start working on sustainability and making it affordable for all. Further, a major part of the selling of menstrual cups happens via online shopping sites and rarely in some physical stores and exhibition sites.

This low accessibility is another hindrance to the acceptability of menstrual cups. Every woman should be informed of the benefits and convenience of menstrual cups and they should be made available in local stores. Period poverty is a serious issue for women on low incomes and it will get worse in the times of pandemics and repeated natural calamities. As menstruation is a biological process, sustainable menstrual products are essential commodities. It is the right of every woman to deal with it with utmost dignity irrespective of her class, caste, or income level.

I feel that the social media push for sustainable menstruation is trying to break the silence regarding the myths of menstrual cups to an extend. But it should not be reclined only in social media platforms, we the women have to speak on these issues everywhere possible, till it reaches the policymakers to make menstrual cups affordable and to promote sustainable menstruation.

Every change counts! Happy periods!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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