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Blood Safai: On A Mission To Clean Menstrual Waste In India

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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.

By Sukanya Chaudhury

Blood Safai is the campaign we are running, in association with Youth ki Awaaz Action Network.

We glorify the blood on battlefields and cheer at the death of the enemies. We measure and applaud the bullet which breaks right through the skin – leaving the clothes of the martyr blood-soaked and red. We celebrate the blood of the fallen, borne out of hatred and yet, we scorn at the blood which gives life.

Official campaign logo designed by Shivam Sharma

Menstruation, since time immemorial, has been successful in two things: firstly, in being the most crucial asset in the continuation of the human race and secondly, being a reason enough for the society to shun and shame the menstruators.

Even when the human race has made unimaginable progress in fields of medicine, space, matter, industry etcetera, the topic of blood coming out of one’s vagina has been able to make most feel squeamish and disgusted. Such is the social dogma surrounding the topic of menstruation that people avoid having a conversation about it altogether; including the menstruators.

The need for the necessity of normalising this natural, bodily process is immense, but one cannot choose to ignore the other aspects that accompany menstruation.

We, at Blood Safai, are trying to deal with the problem regarding the accumulation of menstrual waste, caused by the lack of disposal and proper methods of dealing with it. The following points talk about the categorisation of menstrual wastes and their current method of treatment:

  • In 2016, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF & CC) brought in the new Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM). This placed menstrual wastes under the category of solid wastes and required the respective treatment and disposal of it. There was, however, poor implementation of the rule, and thus the results proved to be null and void.
  • Most landfills have exhausted their lifespans, especially the sole landfill which is used in Kolkata. The functionality of the landfill was rendered useless almost 30 years ago and, till date, no provisions have been made for alternate dumping grounds.
  • This points to the obvious fact that there is no segregation of menstrual waste (considered as solid waste) and neither is it incinerated, as directed by the Solid Waste Management Rules.

Why Is Menstrual Waste A Problem?

The common dumping ground seems to be of no big issue, but one cannot evade its harmful effects. Used sanitary products are incredibly unhygienic, and when they are handled by sanitary workers without prior measurements or coverings, it makes them prone to diseases and infections. Needless to say, due to India’s poor management and treatment of all kinds of waste, majority of it ends up on the ocean floor untreated- harming the marine life as well as affecting water ecosystem.

Excluding the blood, the high plastic content in sanitary napkins/pads (90%) is what makes it even more harmful to our environment. On average, one sanitary napkin takes approximately 800-900 years to degrade completely. Keeping in mind that sanitary napkin is the most used menstrual product in our country and that India alone generates 9,000 tonnes worth of menstrual waste annually, the total time taken for degradation is only unthinkable, if not treated properly. One also cannot overlook the harm it causes to the nutrition content of the soil, its living organisms and its overall pH balance.

Waste ManagementWhat Can You Do?

Alternatives to sanitary napkins like menstrual cups, reusable sanitary pads, sanitary underpants, etcetera, are available. Although switching to these alternatives is considerably the best option, it is definitely not the most feasible one. The inability of Indian women to use such eco-friendly products, as mentioned above, is due to their inexplicably high price, general lack of awareness, social stigma and unavailability of said products in markets irrespective of their urban or rural location.

Since the advertisements of such products are hardly made by the Indian media and no efforts are made to reduce the price of the production by the government, the responsibility of correct methods of disposal should not be placed on the menstruators alone.
The lack of proper places and methods of disposal proves harmful to the vast majority. Used sanitary products often find themselves in local water bodies and/or any available ground. This unhygienic practise is a biohazard which will only amount to surmountable defects if not treated immediately.

Blood Safai is working to urge and provide an incentive to the local authoritative body of Kolkata (Kolkata Municipal Corporation- KMC) for the correct treatment of menstrual waste. In times like these, one can only opt to increase their reach regarding the spreading of awareness and taking the correct measures in dealing with the seemingly small but mercurial problems.

Here’s attaching the link to our petition. Please sign and support our cause!

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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 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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