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“Only One Aunty That I Work For Allows Me To Use The Toilet In Her House”

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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.

Social media saw raging debates on period leaves at the workplace when food delivery giant Zomato introduced period leaves in August this year. While some applauded the move, others considered it a blow to feminism. However, something was missing in these conversations.

They seemed to be centred on socially accepted ‘workplaces’, meaning jobs in the formal sector. What was missing was the inclusion of domestic workers. Women and children make-up 90% of the 80 million domestic workers in India. Their work has been invisibilized through the years and is often not considered ‘real’ work.

What Is Domestic Work And Who Are Domestic Workers?

Domestic work includes work related to the household, including sweeping, cleaning, washing, cooking, and care work. Migrant women often take up this work. Studies show that informally educated women are more likely to migrate than men. Once they move to urban spaces, they look for jobs. Since a large part of migrant women are not formally educated, they work in the informal sector at jobs with low pay like domestic work. The majority of this workforce includes women from lower castes and Adivasi communities and come from some of the poorest and most exploited communities in the country.

Struggles Of Domestic Workers

These jobs pay less, provide no job security, and consist of long working hours. Domestic work is physically laborious, often involving bending and squatting, which can be difficult for some women during their periods. Women do this for long hours and have to bear menstrual cramps and PMS. Taking days off from work to rest for these women would mean a cut in their monthly salary. Under these circumstances taking a period leave costs women their basic amenities like water supply at home, groceries, etc.

A study done on the vulnerability of migrant women living in slums of Mumbai to Reproductive Tract Infections (RTI) showed that one-fourth of them suffered from RTI, and many were vulnerable. These infections occur due to a lack of sanitation facilities. Since most of these workers also suffer from period poverty, they are not well aware of menstrual hygiene, do not have access, or can afford menstrual products.

Also, a lack of private spaces in their households and access to clean water, along with poverty, makes their menstruation days hard and increases the risk of infections. Even with these problems, domestic workers have to work every day of the week at menial wages. Most drivers in India are men, and they get paid more than women working in households.

Toilet Inequality

Casteist ideas of purity and pollution have been moulded into an invisible structure in urban households. Domestic workers are often told not to touch things in the home. There also exists ‘toilet inequality’. Employers do not let their domestic workers use the bathrooms without explicitly saying it is because they practice the caste system. Instead, they say that the workers will not be aware of how to use the toilet or that they will make it ‘dirty’.

Durga, a domestic worker, says, “They tell me to wash my hands constantly and say, don’t touch this, don’t touch that.” If it is full-time employment, then the women mostly have separate bathrooms. Domestic workers, therefore, are restricted from using toilets in their ‘workplace’ even during their periods. How can a worker change their pad or cloth without access to a bathroom or clean water?

Preeti says, “I work in 5-6 houses, where I sweep and mop the floor and wash the dishes. Only one aunty that I work for allows me to use the toilet in her house. Otherwise, I either wait till I go home to use the loo, or I relieve myself in one of the parks.

The Invisibilization

They are often called ‘maids’ or ‘servants’ or ‘house help’. These words are oppressive and demeaning. They limit their roles and furthers their invisibilization. Even though domestic workers form the backbone of Indian households, they are dehumanized and treated as inferiors. Their work is looked down upon and involves a lack of well-deserved respect.

The Necessities Of Conversations About Domestic Workers

While it is essential to talk about period leaves for domestic workers and practice it, it is not enough to do just that. Better steps need to be taken and implemented to end period poverty and provide women with social security benefits. Casteist treatment should be opposed to removing the idea of the ‘other’ in households. Also, toilet inequality has to be addressed for women domestic workers to stop their invisibilization and recognize domestic work as real work and families as workplaces.

Featured image courtesy of ILO on Flickr

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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