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Did You Know About These 2 Policies That Talk About Menstruation 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.

Around 72.63% of rural India practices open defecation (OD) regardless of having toilet facilities. The predominant reason for such practice being lack of awareness, following old age practice and insufficient numbers of toilets. The problem has an impact on menstruating people as compared to others. Therefore, to cater to the issue of toilets in rural areas, the Government of India (GOI) initiated some campaigns to relieve the Indian public from such struggle.

Total Sanitation Campaign (TSC) 

In India, the campaign was introduced by GOI in 1999 as a restructuring of the Central Rural Sanitation Programme (CRSP) and implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development and Central government. The core objective was to enhance the overall quality of life in rural areas and promote sanitation coverage through access to toilets in every possible reachable area.

Representational image.

Failure Of TSC

The TSC achieved some progress in the construction of sanitation facilities and an increase in the awareness-around 3.5 million houses in rural constructed household toilets with support of TSC by 2007. Over 1,700 women’s complexes and 41,00 schools were built under the campaign. The actual data from the government revealed the total rural sanitation coverage was 31%. This means less than one in five reportedly constructed were in place.

There were various speculations and evidence on why the policy wasn’t ready to make an impression on people. Sanitation was the rare case expressed as a priority for village leaders and households. Culture resistance to the change was one of the main challenges faced during implementation. It is likely due to the taboo surrounding ‘excreta’. Pertaining to the goals of the campaign, the voices of the most affected stakeholders such as women, children, and disabled was neglected.

A mason who was interviewed during the policy implementation shared his view, “the main constraint regarding the TSC is that it is difficult to convince people about the need for a household toilet. People are in the habit of using open space for excretion and other facilities.” In some cases, it was also seen people using the toilets as a storeroom.

The government officials and engineers who were tasked with leading water and sanitation projects neglected sanitation in favour of more benefited water projects. Even when officers were motivated, lack of training and participatory development methods were an obstacle for the implementation of TSC.

Albeit, the Total Sanitation Campaign didn’t have any positive correlation with menstruation management. As aforementioned,  the main goal was to target open defecation which I think was the parallel step before planning anything schemes and policies on menstruation health and management.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan

After remaining Total Sanitation Campaign as Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan, the focus was on achieving the vision of Nirmal Bharat (pure India) by 2020. But to combat the loopholes and to achieve the pure sanitation in the country, the TSC/Nirmal Bharat was relaunched as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014 to acquire the previous set of goals of TSC along with modified objectives to reduce open defecation

Menstrual Health Awareness March
Representational image.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan And Menstrual Health Management

Menstrual health management is an integral part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan where the focus area is issues related to women’s hygiene menstrual hygiene. In addition to making sure that each household has a toilet, the government took the responsibility of ensuring public awareness on menstruation, facilities to adolescents with menstrual products, toilets, and proper disposable facilities of menstrual absorbent.

Along with the aforementioned goals, each state and district have a role in framing the relevant state policies. They have the power to make decisions and monitor the program for its full efficiency, training and capacity building of Anganwadi and ASHA workers. The school and communities have a role to sensitize the boys and girls on the topic. While imparting skills and ensuring they have access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, working on myths and misunderstanding on menstruation is in the hands of the district and state leaders.

Efforts are being made to supply sanitary napkins to school-going girls by installing napkin-vending machines at schools. To subdue the difficulty of disposal of sanitary pads, low-cost incineration were installed in the girl’s toilet. For community women, previously the government had launched 100% oxy-biodegradable sanitary napkins “Suvidha” in packs of 4 at Rs. 10. In 2011 under revised menstrual health scheme(MHS) a pack of six sanitary napkins called “Free Days” was provided to rural adolescent girls for Rs.6.

Like the Total Sanitation Campaign, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (specific to its relation to menstrual hygiene) has its own defaults in implementation, such as going against instruction and building one toilet for both boys or girls, toilets without drainage, having no water facilities, no facilities of soap and dustbin for disposing of menstrual absorbent.

“I have used the toilet just two-three times in the school,” says 12 years old, fifth standard Sunehra . “Even if a few girls use the toilet, it becomes dirty, and we cannot go there anymore. I don’t like to defecate in the open. We are big girls, and many people look at us.”

Despite various initiatives introduced by the government through TSC, Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the stack of challenges still remains to be addressed. Ensuring menstrual health and management for women would require a clear understanding of the intricacies related to the problem to achieve an ideal outcome.

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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