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“I Use Torn And Thrown Away Bandages To Soak Period Blood”

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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.

A documentary titled, “Cycle Series’’ beautifully portrayed menstruation across different sections of women especially on the lived experiences of Allison Victory, who led a major chunk of her life as a homeless woman. The theme of the documentary was inspired by Tamara Whiting’s reflections on her journey of working with an organization that educates and looks after the menstrual needs of homeless women.

Each woman’s menstrual experience comprises a unique and different set of psychophysical states, but the same scenario for women who live on roads is somewhat like this; lack of private space, toilet facility and water, and finances for purchasing menstrual hygiene products makes this their menstrual journey traumatic. 

A Billion Women Around The World Lack Access To Basic Hygiene Facilities

As per the UN reports, 1.2 billion women worldwide do not have proper access to water, hygiene, and sanitation facilities. It further throws light on the scenario of South Asian countries where the majority of the schools fail to meet WHO standards of having one toilet for every twenty-five girls.

Despite the fact that Menstrual Hygiene has been recognized by the UN as a global public health concern and a human right issue, yet 1.2 billion women are deprived of basic sanitation and hygiene services globally.

Here Are Some Narratives of Brave Women

“I used to use cloth and still use cloth and now to soak more blood. I even use torn and thrown away bandages as well.” 

This woman collects the discarded bandages from the hospital waste and uses it to soak her menstrual blood. Failure to purchase safe and hygienic menstrual products compels females living on the road to adopting such unhygienic and dicey methods to manage menstrual blood.  Women who are living in tents with no concrete doors, relying on curtains to enclose their spaces which are usually ill-lit and unhygienic with failure to access water, ultimately end up being in a pool of complex health issues.

Homelessness brings with it the lack of safe menstrual hygiene facilities

Living in a  place, on the road, which itself is unsafe and unhygienic, and having zero access to basic necessities of survival like water, private space, money,  makes it extremely tormenting for maintaining hygiene during periods.

“It’s very difficult to maintain cleanliness around but whatever little I can, like washing everyday when water is available I do, apart from this extra I can’t afford to do. I use public toilets and hospital toilets to change and wash.”  

When asked the respondents whether they face any health problems they only told about the “Inconvenience, discomfort, rashes near the private place, itching, sometimes burning issues.’’ These are some of the common health issues which most women face. Many of them are unaware of the deep-rooted health consequences of such unhygienic practices.

Their Innocent And Simple Demands: “I Get Rashes Using Clothes And Papers, I Want Free Pads” 

Many women in the study confessed their desire to have access to sanitary napkins during periods. So that the blood gets properly soaked without clamping the cloth so that they can feel clean and pleasant; and their mobility is free from any sort of fear and anxiety. 

The second most pressing need expressed by the participants of the study is, that the government and or the NGOs low-cost pad making private organizations, working for women according should guarantee them safe places for menstruating women to go and change her soiled pad and clean herself, in order to maintain her cleanliness and hygiene during her periods. 

The third dire need of women staying on roads is to get free access to medicines for getting relief from painful menstrual cramps and other menstrual-related concerns so they can carry their daily activities effectively and with dignity, despite their financial and logistic conditions. As one of the respondents (Swain, S., Rey, D,2020) has expressed, “No water; no pads; no medicines; no privacy are the difficulties that I face. I wish to have a safe place to clean myself, and get medicines and pads for free” 

Homeless women still face logistic problems like lack of access to toilets, private spaces, medical care. Two and a half months ago a homeless woman in Bihar died due to acute hunger in Muzzafarpur Railway station. She was one of the most unfortunate members of the community who face taboo and stigma during menstruation due to such basic deprivations which makes their living dicey.

Featured image source: Canva
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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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