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‘Menstrual Justice’ Stands Trial In The Court Of Classism And Casteism

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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.

Menstrual justice, a term first used by Margaret E. Johnson in her paper, dealt extensively with a menstrual injustice that occurs in various forms in the United States of America. However, Menstrual injustices as a universal phenomenon can be demonstrated in the Indian context as well. Menstrual injustice takes various shapes- such as patriarchy, casteism, Transphobia and gender discrimination, classism to list a few.

For a place to be period positive and sensitive, it is necessary to acknowledge the struggles of different marginalized sections of the society and their unique struggles of menstrual management.

3 people looking at a sanitary pad
Art for YKA by Arnica Kala

Menstruation And Patriarchy

Since ages, anything that is related to women and her body is termed as inferior in a patriarchal society like ours. Patriarchy functions in a way wherein women themselves began to indoctrinate the shame and stigma that exists. Leading to a bodily function which is something as normal as breathing becoming a thing meant to be hidden and kept private. Starting from a young age, women are told to hide it, hide the blood, hide the pain, hide everything that might hint others- other men that she is bleeding.

The culture of shame is actively passed in a family and women suffer in silence.

The impact being, young girls grow up not knowing how to manage their menstruation, what are the diseases and menstrual symptoms that they might be suffering with and yet are not aware- all these hints at from breaking away from the culture that actively breeds silence. Patriarchy and hyper-masculinity are the reasons for menstruation being a gendered thing, which reduces periods and period struggle to a ‘women issue’.   

Menstruation And Casteism

The concept of purity and pollution originally emerges from the caste system wherein the Brahmans are considered as the purest, and the Dalits as polluted. In this backdrop, the result is menstruation being treated as a condition which defiles and makes a brahmin woman impure for a temporary period. This results in women being treated as untouchables when they are on their periods.

Some common practices and taboos that Hindu upper-caste women are made go through include- not being allowed to enter the kitchen, the temple as well often to the extent where they cannot even touch other members of the family. In some families, menstruating women are made to stay in a separate room during the whole week when they are menstruating. While on the other hand, Dalits do not practice menstrual taboos culturally. Therefore, such practices not only perpetuate the Brahmanical idea of purity and pollution, it further stigmatises menstruation itself.

Menstruation And Gender 

Whatever discussion that happens in the mainstream media or our society largely revolves around The experiences of women that are cis-gender. Starting from the advertisements that promote ‘female’ menstrual hygiene products to the medical research that is carried out. This considerably essentializes the process of menstruation. It furthers the idea that to have a period, being a woman is necessary and vice versa – excluding menstruators from the discussion who get their periods but perhaps do not identify as women.

It also puts a lot of pressure on the women who either never had menarche or had early menopause to feel less of women. It also heightens the gender dysphoria in trans-men and trans-women where the blood or absence thereof do not match their gender identity. Therefore it becomes increasingly necessary to make our language, products and discourse one menstrual positivity and management gender-neutral

Period Poverty And Classism

While some of us have the privilege to use a sanitary napkin as a tool to fight sexism,  in our unequal society there are many menstruators who could not afford the products that they might need or want to manage their menstruation. Young girls are made to drop out of schools because there are no sufficient- clean toilets or access to safe and convenient menstrual hygiene products- leading to some of them resorting to using ash, sand, unclean rags during their periods.

For other women, who are homeless, or stay in crowded slums do not even have the privilege to use a washroom in private, low-cost sanitary napkins are not readily available making a necessity, a luxury for some. Therefore, while we talk about menstrual activism through our articles and poems, we need to keep in check our privilege and not romanticise the struggle and reality of some.

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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