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Field Work And Time Of The Month: Experience Of A Grass Roots Professional

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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.

I work with a grass-roots organisation and am currently located in Madhya Pradesh. The last one year in the field has been an enriching experience. Ever since I joined the sector I knew it would not be an easy journey. So far the journey has been an enriching but challenging experience. My job demands extensive field engagement, a minimum of 4 to 5 hours spent in the field. The minimum distance I have to cover is 20 kilometres, and in a day I cover about 60 kilometres on my two-wheeler. 

The roads are mostly washed out or rutted. The main challenge is to travel during the time of menstruation. Sporadic weather, lack of accessible toilets and risk of health issues make working in the field during periods an unpleasant experience. 

Infrastructure:

village unsanitary conditions
Representational Image.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Even today, villages lack proper sanitation, and people resort to defecation in the open. For somebody like me, who is privileged, to go out in the open is a huge challenge in the field when I am left without any access to washrooms. In my experience institutions like panchayats and schools of the village also either lack washrooms or a clean washroom, let alone houses in the villages. 

Due to lack of access to washrooms it gets difficult to manage on the days of periods. Even if I come across a washroom another major roadblock is an issue of water in villages. There are houses with washrooms but quite a few with the option of running water. 

What caught my attention and added to my irritation at times is lack of basic infrastructure like washrooms at women’s collective institutions. One of the cluster level offices of women’s collective lack the facilities. This place is a space for women, yet the basic needs of a woman are inaccessible. 

Disposal:

Another major issue is the disposing of sanitary pads. In villages the concept of waste management is different. Unlike urban spaces, rural areas do not have an option of dustbins or trash collection drives. Therefore, they resort to burning their waste. In villages there are a handful of women who use sanitary pads, but the ones who do have real concerns when it comes to disposing of them. 

 Tuloni Biya Ceremony
When girls of Assamese families reach puberty and start with their menstruation for the first time, they are considered to be impure. During that time, they have strict restrictions on what they eat, where they sleep, whom they meet, etc. After a few days, Aayotis or the villages elder ladies are invited to offer prayers so that all impurities are gone.
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Due to the myths, taboos and secrecy around menstruation women at first wash off their sanitary pads before burning them or dig a pit to dispose of them. Burning sanitary pads is not the best practice as it releases harmful gases that affect human health and the environment. The stigma, taboo and lack of waste management make it difficult during the time of periods to change sanitary pads within a regular interval. 

 

Therefore, it gets difficult for me to change sanitary pads at regular intervals and even dispose of them in the village. Among fellow women colleagues in the organisation time and again they complain about rashes and infections. 

Health:

In this job, which demands rigorous field engagement, the pertaining issue among women colleagues is related to health. Reproductive Tract Infections and other vaginal diseases caused due to rigorous field engagements and due to delay in changing sanitary pads is a huge concern. A lot of my female colleagues and I have to wait a long time to reach accessible washrooms. In most cases it means travelling back to the office space or home. 

Due to these issues a lot of my female colleagues have made a switch to menstrual cups, yet, this sustainable option is only available and viable to women from urban spaces and women from rural areas still find it difficult to reach out for sanitary pads. Even among female colleagues, a lot of them are not comfortable using a cup.

Conclusion:

The organisation I work with allows work from home, which makes it easy to work from the comfort of your space and without taking leaves. Yet, work from home option is still a luxury and a privilege. 

The rural spaces of India still lack basic infrastructure and waste disposal management and even an option to take leave on the days of periods.

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

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons
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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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