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For Most Women In Prisons, Adequate Menstrual Hygiene Management Is A Dream

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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.

Getting imprisoned doesn’t mean losing all your rights. Several Articles of the Indian Constitution still hold valid even for prisoners. Without focusing on that, just like in the outside world, where it is the right of each woman to get access to sanitation facilities and menstrual hygiene products, the same should hold true inside prisons as well. However, when it comes to Indian prisons, that is anything but true.

A report by News18 gives an insight into what it’s like to be a menstruating woman in an Indian prison in Punjab. It revealed how inmates had to pay Rs 10 each for a packet of sanitary napkins. The sanitary napkins in itself are of questionable quality, failing to meet the size or quantity standards.

Such conditions are a running theme when it comes to Indian prisons. In 2019, a study by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and Haryana State Legal Services Authority revealed the dire state of hygiene and health services in the prisons of Haryana. The report titled Inside Haryana Prisons touched upon the lack of consideration by prison staff when it came to their menstrual needs.

It revealed how there weren’t any permanent female doctors in any of the prisons that the report had studied. This isn’t surprising, as the Prisons Statistics report revealed that only half of the vacancies for medical officers were filled in 2018. Referring to the district jail of Karnal, it revealed that none of the women were being provided sanitary napkins.

While the report in question specifically studied prisons in Haryana, sadly, the situation isn’t any better for women jailed in any other prison of the country. A research study titled Women In Prisons-India gives an insight into how it is like to be a menstruating woman in any of India’s many prisons located throughout its topography. A quick look at the report shows how, in Indian prisons, provision of water and menstrual hygiene products are serious concerns. However, even before that, Indian prisons, which are a mirror of society, continue to be tough places for women in India.

A majority of women prisoners in India are in the ages of 18-50 years (81.8%). This means that four out of every five women prisoners need to have their menstrual hygiene needs looked for. This involves providing them with sanitary napkins as per their requirement.

Even In Prisons, Patriarchy Looms Over The Heads Of Indian Women

While the inequality between men and women and the raging disparity in how Indian men and women are treated in society has been discussed for some time now, the same notions creep into our prisons as well.

Angela Sontakey, having spent time in Nagpur Central Jail and Gondia sub-jail before being moved to Byculla, revealed to The Hindu in an interview how men and women are treated differently in Indian prisons. She spoke about how while men can go freely to the judicial department, women cannot. She also revealed how some Indian prisons doubt the inmates when they request for sanitary napkins, asking women to strip to prove that they’re menstruating.

In another instance shared by Sontakey, she revealed that even the quantity of food given to men and women inmates is different. Patriarchy is evident even in so-called prison reform programmes. While men are taught carpentry, leadership development and how to deliver speeches, women are taught activities such as sewing, knitting, embroidery, rangoli, painting and making decorative items, and beauty parlour services.

The Dire Circumstances Women In Prisons Have To Face

Menstruation in India, even under ordinary circumstances, is a taboo. In prisons, however, the phenomenon gets much more difficult to manage. A prisoner from Mysuru Central jailed revealed how she was forced to collect her sanitary pads in plastic bags and throw them in the common dustbin. The practice itself violates several health standards for safe disposal and is unhygienic for everyone involved.

Another revealed how they were forced to make their own pads from old clothes. Even in prisons, there are socio-cultural barriers Indian women face to see. A prisoner revealed how since she was visited by her brother or father in prison, she couldn’t get around to asking them for sanitary pads.

A Sanitary Napkin Is A Luxury For Women In Prisons

To give you an insight into why there is a need for adequate menstrual hygiene management in prisons, it is important to understand the demography of our prisons. A majority of women prisoners in India are in the ages of 18-50 years (81.8%). This means that four out of every five women prisoners need to have their menstrual hygiene needs looked for. This involves providing them with sanitary napkins as per their requirement.

Representational image.

However, the ground reality is far from that. As the Women In Prisons report revealed, women are reportedly charged for their sanitary napkins. In some cases, a specific quota of napkins is given to each woman. This means that irrespective of their menstrual needs, women have to make do with what they’re given. Faced with a shortage of napkins and no other option left, women have to resort to using unhygienic materials such as cloth, ash, pieces of old mattresses and newspapers during their time in prison.

Lack Of Water And Gender-Specific Facilities 

It is common knowledge that clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are essential prerequisites that allow women to practice menstrual hygiene. However, that is a luxury women in Indian prisons don’t seem to have. A 2015 report expounds the challenge in front of us today. It says: “There seems to be a lack of water-based flush type toilets in jails.”

In some states including Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the shortage of said toilets was as high as 50%. Another report revealed how women are not considered important enough to account for when it comes to policy reforms and laws for prisoners. This is because the proportion of Indian women in prisons is small — women constitute 4.3% of all the prisoners in India. This ensures that coverage of facilities such as sanitary napkins and pre- and post-natal care for pregnant mothers remains ineffective.

The state of women in Indian prisons shows that there’s a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality in all spheres of life. The fact that women’s menstrual, health and sanitation needs are so grossly ignored only serves as a reminder to the degree of the problem at hand. Therefore, when menstrual hygiene management reforms are discussed, the state of women in prisons must be kept in mind to develop suitable reforms for their well-being.

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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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