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India’s Water Scarcity Is Hitting Menstruating Women The Hardest

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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 fact that India is standing at the brink of impending water scarcity is known to all. Several reports over the years have articulated the poor state of the country’s water resources.

According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by the Niti Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad amongst others will likely reach zero groundwater levels by 2020. This is expected to affect around 100 million people when it comes to access to clean water.

What is more alarming is that 12 % of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario thanks to inefficient pipeline management, excessive wastage of water and deficient rains over the years.

Water Crisis

The Poor Bear The Brunt Of Water Shortages In The Country 

As is the case with most things, it is the less privileged that have to bear the brunt of India’s lack of water availability. India has more people living in rural areas who live without access to clean water than any other region in the country. The State of the World’s Water 2017 revealed that as many as 63.4 million Indians don’t have access to clean water, putting the country’s most vulnerable groups at further risk.

Not only that, but the water supplied to these rural areas also comes with its own set of problems. A Lok Sabha answer revealed that water supply in rural areas was contaminated with substances like iron, arsenic and fluoride, all of which are known to cause harmful diseases such as skin lesions and cancer.

Women Are Hit Hardest By Water Shortages In India

In this dire situation, when water isn’t readily available, Indian women seem to get the short straw. Water forms an integral part of menstrual hygiene management. It is an essential resource that allows women to manage menstruation with hygiene and dignity.

The importance of access to water for menstruating women can’t be emphasized enough. Access to clean handwashing facilities and toilets allows women to keep themselves clean during menstruation. Simply put, safe water is vital to sanitation.

However, millions of women in India don’t have access to clean water, which is proving to be problematic for them on a variety of fronts.

Women all over the world without access to basic sanitation and safe water struggle to keep themselves clean, especially during menstruation,” Lizzy MacRae Garvin, Lifewater International’s WASH Program Officer to Uganda, said.

Due to the lack of clean water, families in villages have to walk miles in search of water. Sadly, this responsibility is given to the women of the family. On average, a rural woman walks 5 kilometres to 20 kilometres a day to fetch water for her household.

At a time when a woman should be taking proper care of herself, maintaining hygiene and sanitation, making long, arduous journeys in search of clean water acts detrimental to their health. The physical burden of carrying water comes with its own sets of problems. It can lead to increased health risks, such as uterine prolapse, musculoskeletal issues, and stress.

mother holding her child, sanitary padsThe lack of clean water is also acting as an impediment to women’s education. Since water collection is a woman’s job, it is expected that they have to leave everything in search of it. The impact lack of clean water has on women’s education is startling. A report revealed that 23% of Indian women drop out of school due to lack of clean water and sanitation facilities.

Access to clean water is also crucial for women’s safety. Due to the lack of water in their homes, women either walk long distances or go out to relieve themselves during the night. As a result, water collection points or the journey traversed in the search for water, act as hotspots for harassment, violence and sometimes even rape of these women.

Women and girls often go the whole day without food and water, to wait till the night as the darkness provides them with some sort of privacy But this poses a threat to their safety, exposing them to acts of violence. The lack of water, therefore, puts Women at risk of physical attack, or even abuse.

Why Water Matters For Menstruating Women

Lack of access to clean water has a cyclical impact on menstruating women. A simple example could be this. Women in rural areas usually use a cloth during menstruation. They use this cloth multiple times, resorting to washing and drying it again and again. Now, if a woman doesn’t get access to clean water, she washes the cloth with contaminated water or worse, doesn’t wash it at all. What anyway wasn’t the ideal product to use during menstruation just got more dangerous as it carries a higher risk of infection now” said Ajita, someone who has worked with women in rural areas all over the country.

Another way lack of availability of water acts as an impediment for women is when it is combined with a lack of toilets. Sixty-three million adolescent Indian girls are living in homes without toilets. An article by WaterAid expounded how Indian women risk rape in their search for toilets in rural India.

Therefore, it is alarming to see that even in dire circumstances where communities don’t have access to water, women are facing the worst possible situations. It is imperative to understand that access to clean water is a fundamental right, and adequate steps are needed to ensure that women get their due when it comes to clean and safe water in the country.

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)’.

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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