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Ableist Products & Apathy: The Reality Of Menstruating With A Disability In India

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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.

Shakuntala Doley Gamlin
Secretary, Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (Divyangjan)
Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment
Government of India

Subject: Ensuring Period Equity for individuals with physical disabilities.

Respected Madam,

As per the 2011 census, 2.68 crore individuals in India are facing some or the other kind of disability. Out of these, 1.18 crore are women, most of whom are menstruating individuals.

It is no doubt that menstruation brings several challenges in one’s life, and with existing disabilities, dealing with menstruation can be extremely difficult for many individuals. Often, people with physical disabilities face issues in terms of accessibility and usage of sanitary products which makes them prone to MHM-related infections.

Furthermore, people with physical disabilities are often unable to earn sufficient income for their livelihood. The state does provide them with a ‘pension‘, but it seldom suffices for their daily expenses, leaving them with little money to spend on this monthly phenomenon.

Still from the movie ‘Margarita With A Straw’

Furthermore, for individuals who have to use a wheelchair all the time, dealing with menstruation becomes difficult. I wonder why the state is not going the extra mile for menstruators with disabilities – as hygienic menstrual practices are costly for many individuals in this nation.

Often individuals with physical disabilities have caretakers who manage many of their day-to-day tasks. While most caretakers are mothers, the possibility of a menstruating individual having a non-menstruating caretaker is disconcerting as non-menstruating individuals aren’t aware of MHM practices. In such a scenario, the non-menstruating caretakers often have to figure these things out themselves.

Additionally, we rarely see any MHM product created explicitly for menstruators with physical disabilities. One can’t seem to deny that neither the public nor the private sector has paid any attention to even the mere possibility of creating such products.

In a country like India, where world-renowned public intellectuals reside, it does seem to be problematic how no one has taken the initiative to research and create such products. In such a scenario, the responsibility falls on the state to take the initiative and regulate all possible mechanisms to make the lifestyle of menstruators with physical disabilities easier.

Several actions, mentioned below can resolve the problems above:

  1. Subsidization: By providing subsidies of MHM products to people with disabilities or providing them with an additional MHM allowance alongside their pensions, the state can relieve them of having to spend on expensive MHM products or medications.
  2. Free distribution: The state can deliver free MHM products monthly to the doorsteps of these individuals. This type of mass distribution can be done with the assistance of both the public and the NGO sectors. It is no doubt that the state is capable of employing grass-root level workers for managing such localized operations – the efficient work done by ASHAs proves it.The state can also collaborate with various NGOs in a decentralized set-up for the distribution of these products. Such a mechanism will ease out the possible burden on the state. It will also create an avenue for the public sector and the NGOs to collaborate, giving both the areas various opportunities to broaden the reach and impact of their activism.
  3. Training caretakers: Often, caretakers (both menstruating and non-menstruating) are unable to understand the menstrual needs of their charge, and there is often a concern whether conventional MHM techniques are suitable for individuals with disabilities. By conducting local level workshops, the state can provide the caretakers with reliable and medically-supported information as to how they can address the menstrual needs of their loved ones.

It is evident in many cases, equity becomes a necessary prerequisite for achieving equality, and we also understand that individual differences are not limited to any socioeconomic levels. By not engaging in this possible act of ‘Period Equity’ for menstruators with disabilities, we are not just doing injustice to our friends who have to experience all these problems but also to the values of socioeconomic justice our nation was founded upon.

I hope this letter finds you well – as allies we can only voice our opinions and concerns – it is in the hands of the state to reflect on those concerns and utilize the public machinery for the benefit of the ones who need it.

Yours sincerely,
Ansh Sharma

Word of thanks– I would like to thank Ms Chandni Ahuja, Founder, Raindrops Foundation, for her invaluable inputs which helped me achieve a better understanding of this issue.

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

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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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