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Even Without A Menstrual Leave Policy, These Initiatives Are Supporting MHM 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.

It is common parlance that India needs a menstrual policy. While it is necessary to have a nationwide policy that can bring the agenda of menstrual hygiene management to the forefront, that is not the only way to make legal headway. Several ministries and state governments have passed legislation, issued directives and launched schemes that help in spreading awareness and bringing the issue of mensuration to the forefront.

Till the time a central menstrual policy is discussed, developed and formulated, these stakeholders can serve as an important guiding light when it comes to implementing and executing menstrual hygiene management policies in the country.

The aim of the article is to bring to light what is already out in the open when it comes to legislation and frameworks with respect to menstrual hygiene management in India. Even if these directives are implemented in full and with complete efficiency, it will go a long way in providing better access to facilities and benefits to menstruating women. This is because simply passing laws isn’t the solution. Their competent implementation should be a priority as well.

Representational image.

Period Leave: A Reality In Some States Already

The Menstruation Benefit Bill that was debated in the Parliament in 2018 sought to provide women working in public and private sectors two days of paid menstrual leave every month. However, in some states, the concept is already a reality. Period leave has been a reality in Bihar since 1992.

The Bihar government allows all women staff to take two days of special leave every month due to biological reasons. While it would have been ideal if it was stated that menstruation is the reason behind such legislation, the rule in itself is commendable. 

On similar lines, a study of official records shows that the Government Girls School in Ernakulam, Kerala had allowed students to take a period leave in 1912 itself! The school gave the provision to menstruating women to skip their exams and write them later. These practices show how menstruation leave can be made a reality irrespective of the fact whether there is a nationwide menstrual policy regulating it or not. Such stories should serve as a catalyst for other state governments, organizations and corporations to follow suit and provide the benefit of menstrual leave to women.

Pink Toilets Constructed By NCPCR To Improve Sanitation Facilities As Well

It is also important to understand that the intersectionality between menstrual hygiene management and legislation isn’t just restricted to the menstrual policy. There are different ways to doll out benefits to menstruating women, and many governments are doing exactly that.

Credits: Business Today

Over the past few years, several state governments have constructed what they call ‘Pink toilets’. These toilets are essentially women-friendly toilets that provide menstrual hygiene facilities such as sanitary pad vending machines and even incinerators for effective waste management of sanitary pads.

Facilities like these play an important role in spreading awareness about menstruating while also dealing with one of the widespread problems being faced by our country when it comes to MHM. The lack of sanitary pad use by women. only 18% of women know how to use a sanitary napkin in India, and the establishment of these Pink Toilets can go a long way in ensuring ease of availability of sanitary products for women.

Several state corporations have set up such Pink Toilets in the last few years. The New Delhi Municipal Corporation Constructed has constructed over 20 such pink toilets across the city, with the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has sent circulars to state authorities to set up pink toilets across the state on priority. Pink Toilets can be found in Uttar Pradesh’s Kaushambi district as well.

Menstrual Hygiene Scheme Scheme Under National Health Mission Has Been Promoting Menstrual Hygiene Management In India

Credits: Indian Express

The conversation around menstrual hygiene management in India has gained traction via other avenues as well. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation issued National Guidelines for Menstrual Health Management (MHM) in 2015. It signalled an important step in India politics, as it introduced an official document that recognized MHM and the need to work on it to ensure access to healthy menstruation facilities is a basic right.

Similarly, many schemes have been launched to ensure access to menstrual hygiene products for women. The ‘Ujjwala Sanitary Napkin’ initiative launched in Odisha aims to provide both sanitary napkins and employment opportunities to women. Similarly, the Asmita Yojana Scheme was launched in Maharashtra to provide rural women sanitary pads at discounted prices.

All these legislations, policies and initiatives help us understand that there is a multitude of ways where the movement to provide better MHM facilities in India can be strengthened legally and administratively. If effectively done, the existing provisions hold great potential in solving a magnitude of problems being faced by menstruating women. There is a need to ensure the complete execution of policies as much as there is a need to bring in new laws.

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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