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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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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)’.

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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.

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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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