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The Past Decade Has Seen A Positive Change Towards Menstrual Hygiene Management

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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.

The concept of menstruation hygiene management is widely used nowadays. But the scenario was not so recent in the history of MHM in India and around the world. The word menstruation is closely associated with shame, hesitation and humiliation.

Before going deep, we first have to know what this MHM is. The joint monitoring programme (JMP) of WHO & UNICEF, has proposed the following definition of MHM, “Women and adolescent girls are using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect the menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of a menstrual period using soap and water for washing the body as required and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials. They understand the basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without discomfort or fear.Period panty

Menstrual health got space in the reproductive and child health programme (RCH) in 1997, but it was not completely addressed. In the NGO sector, Child in Need Institute(CINI-founded in 1974) and Chetna (founded in 1984) were some of the pioneers addressing menstrual health under reproductive health (RH)using the Life Cycle Approach to include every stage in a woman’s reproductive life.

Individuals too, were making significant contributions in this field. Yasodhara and Abhijit Dass, health activists, worked for menstrual hygiene awareness in the Almora hill region of Northern India in 1999.

In addition to ongoing activities in the Ministries of Water Supply and Sanitation, Education, and Health that include MHM as an integral component of their sanitation and hygiene program. Several INGOs and NGOs have been working to promote MHM in India for the last two and half decades. Education and awareness programs are the most common MHM intervention.

The MHM is gaining momentum nowadays because there are many international organizations like WSSCC, UNICEF, Water Aid, UNFPA’s ( Life skill programme) working on menstruation. GIWA, Sachi Saheli, Goonj, Thoughtshop foundation, MITU foundation is working in different regions of India.

Religious institutions like Paramarth Niketan, Rishikesh are also stretching their support to the government of India. They support to deal with the issues caused by the stigma and silence ingrained with menstruation.

They are organizing various campaigns, training, sensitization workshops, networks, arranging MHM labs in schools and colleges. Developing policy, guidelines, and program development, work in advocacy, establishing counselling centres to break the silence, and to ensure easy access to appropriate knowledge and informed choice.

Arunachalam Murganathan developed and patented a low-cost machine to make disposable sanitary napkins. SHGs were getting involved in his effort, and this became a community-driven popular campaign. The movie “PadMan” is based upon the story of his continuous effort and struggle. This also helped a lot in creating awareness among the viewers of different sections and gender of the society. It also gave food for thought, as Akshay Kumar played a crucial role in this movie.

A woman looking at sanitary padsThe concept raised its speed and scale-up as there are continuous interest and effort shown by the government of India. Under NRHM (ASHA programme, RKSK, RBSK, MHS) also adds a lot to what has been achieved. As a result of which there is a gradual positive shift of development has been seen in the behaviour of society. This also reduced the restriction on girls and women during menstruation. Girl’s attendance in school also rises during menstruation.

NFHS-IV found that 58% of young Indian women (15-24 years) use a hygienic method of protection (mostly sanitary pads). This is a significant increase from the 12 % using Pads in 2010 (as reported by the Plan and AC Nielsen study).

This is, no doubt, a result of greater attention to menstrual hygiene management (MHM) over the past few years in India. It’s good news for us. It reflects the awareness, understanding and acceptance level of people towards the topic about which everyone prefers to remain silent. A flow of change is seen around the globe.

A sustainable MHM structure includes three main components, that is:

  1. Widespread awareness to accept menstruation as a natural process and to minimize taboos associated,
  2. Availability and accessibility of safe menstrual product and toilet facility for all,
  3. Disposal of menstrual waste in an eco-friendly manner.

Various efforts were carried out for the development of the first two components. But we should not forget or ignore the third one.

Careful initiative for Behaviour Change Communication, scientific research, manufacturing of user-friendly products needs to be carried out. Eco-friendly waste disposal and management system need to be ensured. A combined effort is required at all levels so that MHM waste will not stand as a human-made disaster before us in the near future.

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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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