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Rural India Can Bring A Menstrual Revolution. Let Me Tell You Why.

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.

The popular narrative of rural India regarding menstrual health has always been that of a backward region. An area of uneducated people with the unavailability of sanitary products, using the same old traditional methods and blindly following the stereotypes attached to it. It is surprising how people tend to make assumptions on the image of another person based on the geographical region they stay in.

These days, the word ‘rural’ is misinterpreted to an extent that it is often thought to be clingy with ‘backwardness’ as a shadow, an inseparable part of it. Therefore, to disrupt that perception, we would present to you a completely different side of our rural regions which would make you rethink the definition of it.

Women from the rural areas of Kerala, Gujarat, Assam and Bangalore have come out in huge numbers in support of more sustainable and eco-friendly sanitary products to manage menstrual waste. Over 500 women in Muhamma, a village in Kerala’s Alappuzha district, have renounced the use of synthetic sanitary napkins and switched to menstrual cups.

ATREE, a non-profit organization in collaboration with the gram panchayat, is focusing towards making Muhamma India’s first sanitary pad-free region. What makes this initiative even more remarkable is that it is being achieved in one of those areas where 25% of the menstruators still use cloth because of the taboos associated with it.

Source: The News Minute

In Gujarat, Ashwini Rajkumar an engineering graduate, with the help of government centres like Anganwadi and other NGOs, is helping the women from underprivileged sections of the society. They conduct workshops to make them understand the concept of menstruation and why it happens. They are training adolescent girls to make sanitary pads and selling them at a low cost, becoming a source of income for these women and making these sustainable products reach a large mass at the same time.

In the Pamohi village of Assam, Uttam Teron and Aimoni Tumung of Parijat Academy are nudging villagers towards menstrual hygiene and switching towards reusable sanitary products. They conducted public gatherings to discuss the issues of health and hygiene and distribute free samples of usable sanitary products. The villagers are then further encouraging other people into menstrual hygiene.

In villages around Bangalore, they are following a chain where 10 women of the village inspire 80 more to switch to reusable cloth pads or menstrual cups. These organisations work extensively by conducting workshops to break the social stigma, fight the shyness and misinformation about the topics affecting the physical, social and mental health of women.  

Why Is There A Need For Change?

Women in rural India stick to the traditional method of using cloth during menstruation due to the inability to afford them and the challenges of its disposal. The frequent washing of the cloth and not getting exposed to proper sunlight can lead to urinary and reproductive tract infection. Using unhygienic old cloth and challenges of disposal of used sanitary pads makes them stick to the cloth option. However, cloth pads have now come out as a hygienic and eco-friendly option, but only if used in proper environmentally hygienic conditions.

Source: The Guardian

With the challenges and taboos associated around menstruation, the sanitary waste usually gets disposed off to the forests or near the lake in the rural areas, resulting in polluting the environment and emerging as a danger for the animals. According to Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI), approximately 121 million women use disposable sanitary napkins in India. This would mean heaps of synthetic pads lying around us for 500-800 years.

Therefore, to stop this, we need to introduce sustainable and eco-friendly options like using menstrual cups in our lifestyle. These cups are long-lasting, reusable, with no worries of problems like rashes or bacterial infection.

Change Might Be Slow, But It Is Significant

It is the awareness about a topic and a push in the right direction that one needs to set as an example for everyone. While extremities in action exist everywhere be it a rural or urban area, the process of learning could come from anywhere. The women of Muhamma and other villages have shown some exemplary responsibility and determination towards their body and the environment.

It is such villages that have changed the perception of people in viewing the rural regions in a backward light. They urge us to rethink about it too. These villages have the capability of bringing out a revolution.

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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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