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6 Reasons Why Public Washrooms Are Not Menstruator Friendly

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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.

Jaha soch, waha shauchalaya” was the prime tagline of India’s infamous washroom campaign, Swachh Bharat Mission– a campaign that encouraged creation of both public and private washrooms so as to improve sanitation and hygiene.

Often perceived as a success, this campaign undoubtedly brought a lot of attention and created extensive awareness regarding the need of washrooms in all possible spaces but did this campaign benefit everyone in every aspect? Are washrooms used only for urination and bodily waste excretion? What about menstruators? Clearly, we have a lot to answer for.

A pivotal point that this campaign forgot to address was making washrooms menstruator-friendly. Let us see how-

A woman talking out a sanitary napkin from her purse1. No MHM Products

Public washrooms, commonly known as ‘Sulabh Shauchalaya’ in India seldom offer menstrual hygiene products to the individuals using them. At any given time, a quarter of women around the world are menstruating. Not providing MHM products in public washrooms brings the responsibility of carrying the same (most commonly a sanitary pad or tampon) on the individual who is menstruating.

The responsibility of carrying a sanitary pad with oneself all the time doesn’t only give additional stress but also contributes to gender inequality in the larger sense.

2. Location

In many rural areas of the country, public washrooms are located at far off distances from residential areas. Women are often prohibited to use the washrooms in their homes for MHM needs and are often encouraged to use these public washrooms due to the stigma attached with menstruation.

Secluded locations become a problem as they pose security and privacy concerns. Far away from residential areas, using these washrooms often results in apprehensions as they increase the possibility of sexual harassment.

Furthermore, considering they are in secluded locations, the maintenance of such spaces if often neglected by local administrations – such washrooms usually have no reliable water supply and lighting which makes using them even more troublesome.

3. Administrators

In most urban spaces, the caretakers of these washrooms are men. Stigma and taboos attached with menstruation often makes conversations with caretakers nearly impossible as women are often afraid of possibly facing the judgment and embarrassment these caretakers can inflict on them.

4. No Waste Disposal Mechanisms

Not only do these spaces expect menstruating individuals to carry MHM products with them all the time, they also do not provide sufficient information and mechanism for proper disposal of menstrual waste.

5. Costly Toilets

The average cost of using a public toilet is ₹ 5 per person for single use, which translates into ₹ 750 per month for a family of 5 for just a single day trip.

Menstruators often need to use toilets many times in a day. Considering the existing socio-economic structures (and statistics), using a public toilet during menstruation is unaffordable for a large part of the population.

A toilet complex with urine flowing out of it and waste strewn around it.
The sorry state of affairs continues at the Namma Toilet at Samaypur Badli Metro Station. Photo Credit: Abhishek Jha

6. Exclusive Toilets

Public toilets often are not inclusive – they seldom have any provisions for elderly and disabled individuals; the additional stress of MHM clearly demotivates menstruators with disabilities to use these toilets.

Furthermore, menstruators with disabilities many times have care-takers with them and public toilets are seldom spacious enough to accommodate both – the user and the caretaker – thus, expecting users to manage things on their own.

Why Does This Matter?

Thousands of menstruating individuals use public washrooms daily. That is a reason enough why these spaces must cater to their needs. Furthermore, many homeless individuals also rely on these washrooms to maintain their personal hygiene, especially menstrual hygiene.

What Can Be Done?

  1. Installation of sanitary product dispensers in community washrooms: By doing so, we can increase the accessibility of menstrual hygiene products to menstruating individuals. Furthermore, by subsidizing their prices in such spaces, we can resolve the issue of affordability surrounding these products.
  2. Training the caretakers: By training caretakers of such washrooms, we can ensure that these services reach out to their target audience. Furthermore, such individuals can act as catalysts in reducing the stigma around menstruation.
  3. Creating public washrooms in safe locations: By ensuring the safety and privacy of women in these spaces, we can encourage women to use them more frequently.
  4. Installing proper waste disposal mechanisms and educational graphics: Community spaces are often a great method to educate people about necessary health practices. by installing interactive graphics in such spaces, we can educate the individuals who use them and create awareness about menstrual waste disposal.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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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.

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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.

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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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