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Are Policies On Menstruation Really Successful?

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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.

The Kenya Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy (2019-2030) is a big win to the Kenyan menstruating population. The policy is a key milestone towards the achievement of healthy and hygienic menstruation with access to improved water sanitation and hygiene. It is a long-awaited and celebrated policy by all sexual and reproductive health and rights stakeholders.

The policy’s mission is to ensure that all women in Kenya can manage menstruation hygienically, freely, with dignity without stigma or taboos, and with access to the right information on MHM, menstrual products, services and facilities, and to dispose of menstrual waste safely.

Despite extensive and numerous legislations and policies including, the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Basic Education (Amendment) Act No. 17 of 2017, National Vision 2030, National Health Policy 2014-2030, Kenya Environmental Sanitation and Hygiene Policy 2016 – 2030, and the Kenya School Health Policy (2018), there is still a gap in adequate access to menstrual products, service and facilities, acquiring necessary information and education on menstruation, and safe disposal of menstrual waste.

Women in Meru, Kenya, examining Menstrual Cups. Source: Wikicommons

What Underlying Policies And Legislations Couldn’t Achieve

Will the new Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy (2019-2030) safeguard menstruators right to the highest attainable standard of health? Will it include the right to health care services, including reproductive health care? Earlier policies have made little to no impact in solving several challenges menstruators face in Kenya, such as poor sanitation facilities, unaffordable sanitary products, limited comprehensive sexuality education, and myths and taboos against periods.

According to the Ministry of Education, Kenya 2011, 2967440 girls menstruate in schools per month and approximately 9495680 to 13056560 kgs of menstrual waste is generated every academic year. This load of rubbish finds its way into pit latrines leading to faster filling up, and blockage as the majority of public schools use pit latrines for disposal of menstrual waste.

In Kenya, 65% of menstruators are unable to afford sanitary pads. The situation is so devastating that, Dr Penelope’s 2015 study of 3000 Kenyan women finds that 1 in 10 15-year-old girls was engaging in sexual activities to get money to pay for sanitary products. “When people earn less than two bucks a day, is a family going to buy bread, milk and food or girl’s sanitary pads?” says Angela Lagat, chief brand marketing officer at ZanaAfrica.

Poverty affects menstruators ability to afford sanitary products; it further endangers their health when they engage in sexual activities to get sanitary ware. There is a need to empower all menstruators and achieve gender equality to end disparities hindering menstruators having healthy and safe periods.

The Needed Changes

The policy leaves out a critical component that is comprehensive sexuality education as a priority action to ensure that myths, taboos and stigma around menstruation are addressed by providing women, girls, men and boys access to information on menstruation (Policy Objective 2).

There is a need for age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education for menstruators to tackle all aspects of health and give them a better understanding of their sexuality. The schooling needs to sustained and continued to better tackle myths and taboos around menstruation.

The menstrual hygiene management policy leaves out the aspect of transgender people as one of the menstruators, therefore not gender-inclusive. The term ‘women and girls’ used throughout the policy should be substituted with ‘menstruators’ for inclusivity. Menstruation is a human right, and all menstruators have right to non-discrimination and gender equality, and all barriers against healthy, safe and affordable menstruation should be removed.

Menstruators don’t need paperwork in the form of menstrual hygiene management policy but are waiting for the plan to be implemented. A multi-sectoral approach and collaboration of all stakeholders will enable the successful implementation of this policy. Strengthening the leadership, institutional and human resource capacity of various stakeholders in the menstrual hygiene management sector to promote sustainable MHM interventions effectively is vital and commendable.

Okoth Paul Okoth is the Kenyan Regional Ambassador to Tunza Eco-generation. He is part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program and an intern with Youth Cafe. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter

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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.

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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.”

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.

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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, 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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