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India’s Waste Management Strategy Lacks One Important Factor: People’s Involvement

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Ways To Bring Change

Mahatma Gandhi, one of the most profound figures in India’s freedom struggle, also worked to free the country from other forms of bondage like open defecation and the practice of untouchability. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He believed, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

He set the example by building a toilet inside his cottage and cleaned it himself, which was unheard of in those times when toilets were considered polluting and only done by people from lower castes. His actions paved the way to a great shift in the mindset of the mass and resulted in the abolition of untouchability and sowed the seed of Swacch Bharat or clean India.

Pourakarmikas, the local civic workers in Bengaluru sweeping  streets in door-to-door collection in their manual carts.

When we study the solid waste management scenario in India, we find that several initiatives have been taken by the government and authorities and a lot may has been achieved in terms of policy and adoption of new technologies. Still, real change is yet to be witnessed, and evidently, there remains one area which requires attention: lack of people’s involvement and commitment to waste management in their homes. People’s indifferent attitude towards sanitary and menstrual waste has made management of menstrual waste even tougher for the municipality and civic workers.

Do It Yourself

On the lines of Gandhian principle of people’s involvement to bring change, the Khud Karo (translation: do it yourself) National Competition on Management of Menstrual Waste was organised by Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation on social media in August and September this year. The campaign’s objective is to create awareness on waste as a subject, nature of the crisis, but more importantly, build social responsibility towards waste management, including sanitary waste disposal.

Auto tipper used for door-to-door waste collection in Bengaluru city in Karnataka.

Menstrual hygiene and household waste management are correlated. A house with poor waste disposal facility compromises collection and disposal of soiled sanitary pads, which in turn adversely impacts menstrual hygiene and health among girls and women in the household, school, college or workplace. They are most likely to wear a sanitary pad for long hours. Do you know due to shame, secrecy and silence around menstruation, they go to great lengths to hide the used and soiled pads?

Additionally, sanitary waste generators lack understanding and fail to assign importance and take ownership towards correct disposal, which has implications on other people like the waste pickers and civic workers, and on the ecology. A basic understanding of waste management and the entire cycle the soiled sanitary pads go through until they reach their final destination in landfills can go a long way in changing the menstrual waste crisis in India.

Compactor used to transport the waste that’s been collected door-to-door

The Competition

Nongmaithem Jerina from Imphal, Khumlo Gomti from Chandel in Manipur, Godwin Bosco from Kochi in Kerala and Dipak Sinha from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh were adjudged as winners in a prize-giving ceremony conducted online on Gandhi Jayanti on 2nd October 2020.

Picture: Inputs from the Khud Karo/Do It Yourself National Competition on Menstrual Waste Management serves to clarify the correlation between the state of solid waste management to sanitary waste disposal and menstrual hygiene and health of 355 menstruating girls and women in India

Story Of Each Household

Nongmaithem Jerina, a Master in Social Work (MSW) student in discussing the local state of waste management in Imphal puts the spotlight on how localities do not have garbage bins where residents can dispose household waste. It leaves no choice for them but to either store waste in the premises of their homes until the private organisations who collect waste get it picked up for a monthly service charge. Those who cannot avail such service throw waste in the drains or pile them around their houses.

Citizens may be sensitized and even willing to participate, but the absence of a city-based waste collection, transportation, segregation, processing and recycling, and landfill mechanism anchored by the local authority and supported by civil society organisations, can cause confusion and passiveness in waste generators. When a comprehensive waste management system does not exist on the ground, the issue of sanitary waste goes unaddressed.

Bellahalli landfill in Bengaluru is overfilled and in a crisis

Khumlo Gomti Khining, an Anganwadi Worker, discusses how all waste management initiatives are concentrated around the district headquarters, leaving residents to fend for themselves. The collection and transportation to dumping site mechanism, run by the Autonomous District Council in Chandel, are concentrated only around the bazaar area residents. Rural Manipur does not depend on external facilities for managing household waste as house-to-house collection is non-existent. They manage household waste themselves in their backyards—either through burning or storing it.

Godwin Bosco, who works at Cognizant Technology Solutions in Kochi, points out that household waste disposal is running smoothly in Kerala since there is an effective waste collection system run by the municipality. Still, their challenge is the final dump yard, which has become a site for pollution caused by burning waste. Their need is to develop an effective method for waste processing.

Dipak Sinha, a central government officer, posted in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, attributes his passion for the conservation of resources and recycling at home to his growing-up years spent in Shillong among Khasis, who, according to him, are exemplary in maintaining cleanliness and conserving the environment.

Through the Khud Karo National Competition, a consolidation of ground realities in waste management existing in different parts of India was possible through the insight shared by the participants, along with a conclusion that no investment in waste management by the authorities, NGOs and partners can result in clean neighbourhoods and safe environment until each unit viz., the household, does its part with their garbage.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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