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These Factors Are Stopping India From Having A Proper Menstrual Waste Management In Place

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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.

Sanitation varies from gender to gender. Socialisation triggers a behaviour change, as there are two aspects — personal hygiene and sanitation practices. Society brings up an individual’s moral and social values. This involves parental and familial control, which are, in turn, controlled by society. This control also influences sanitation and hygiene practices, such as menstrual waste disposal and its environmental consequences in mind.

A healthy menstrual waste management includes hygienic toilet facilities — using menstrual products with high absorbent capacity, soap and water to clean the body and a disposal system for used products. In Sustainable Development Goals, water and sanitation are barely defined. Still, they constitute remotely in SDG3 (physical health and psycho-social well-being of women and girls), SDG4 (quality education for girls), SDG5 (gender empowerment and equality), SDG6 (water and sanitation) and SDG12 (responsible consumption and production for the environment).

On an average, a woman has 459 cycles during her lifetime. Due to urbanisation, the disposal of sanitary napkins has rapidly increased. A country where menstruation is considered a taboo and has many stigmas attached to it, poor waste management is just an add on. Many low- and middle-income countries face challenges in urban waste management, which is causing environmental pollution in dense urban areas.

Source: Blogspot/dreamer

One fails to consider the process of collecting and disposing of menstrual waste, which comes under the huge umbrella of menstrual hygiene. Many countries are still struggling to develop techniques to manage faecal and urinary waste. This explains the lack of menstrual management practices. In the majority of countries, women dispose of their used sanitary pads or tampons into domestic solid garbage bins. In India, there is still a huge deficit of bins for the disposal of sanitary napkins.

In urban areas, people follow either solid waste management or flush the sanitary pads in toilets, while in rural India, there are many options like burning and burying. In rural areas, women mostly use clothes or reusable pads. In many slum areas, women dispose of their menstrual waste into pit latrines, as burning and burial are difficult due to limited space. There are no proper disposal bins in some schools and colleges, which is why many girls choose to remain absent during menstruation.

Some schools do have incinerators for disposal of menstrual waste. However, disposing habits also vary on the basis of places, regions, cultures and houses. In case of no bins, menstrual waste is either thrown in the corners of public toilet facilities, oftentimes unwrapped. In many cities, a major complaint heard regarding the cleaning of public toilets is blockage of sewage systems due to flushing of menstrual waste in toilets.

Menstrual hygiene management deals with safe, need-generated designs for women. However, improved menstrual hygiene management must consider sustainable use of facility and access, including education, awareness and workforce. When community toilets are looked into, the menstrual waste disposal is always overlooked. One needs to understand the nature of menstrual blood to be able to improve its disposal systems. The steps for proper disposal are not explained clearly.

In our country, sanitation systems have been constructed only for urine and faeces. These systems are inefficient as far as menstrual materials are concerned; sewage pipelines cannot absorb them and result in clogging. Furthermore, menstrual waste is easily decomposable in landfills, except for the plastic cover of commercial sanitary pads, which takes years to decompose, leaving the plastic line. Usually, in rural areas, huge pits are dug collectively due to space constraints. Menstrual waste is thrown in these pits and later, burnt or buried.

However, as commercial disposable sanitary pads make their way to rural areas, the pit system of disposal is becoming more and more redundant. To improve the design of sanitary pads, manufacturers design adhesive wings, which make biodegradation tougher. These pads, when flushed into the toilets, clog them.

waste picker ragpicker lady at a landfill
To improve the design of sanitary pads, manufacturers design adhesive wings, which make biodegradation tougher.

Sewage system blockage due to poor disposal systems for menstrual waste management has become a global issue. Women who live on riversides dispose of these pads into the rivers, which infests germs and breeds many pathogenic microorganisms. A blood-soaked sanitary product may contain hepatitis and HIV viruses, which may retain their microbe activity in the soil and live up to six months in the soil. When sewage workers try to clean the clogs, they may get exposed to several pathogens and chemicals, and fall sick.

Incineration of menstrual waste causes pollution as the harmful chemical gases produced are toxic and carcinogenic. The current solid waste management in India faces an unintended result of providing plastic wrappers for waste disposal, which increases waste and pollution. However, these incinerators are being encouraged by the Indian Government, where they meet environmental standards and emission control.

Against this backdrop, two solutions currently exist. Incinerators have emerged as a favoured disposal and treatment option, particularly in schools. With impetus from the Swachh Bharat Mission, specifically, the MHM Guidelines for schools and the recently released gender guidelines by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the use of incinerators is likely to grow. On the other hand, cities including Bangalore and Pune are implementing a solid waste intervention to segregate and identify menstrual waste during routine garbage collection effectively.

These two solutions meet a growing need to manage menstrual waste appropriately. However, challenges exist in terms of cost and variations in incinerator technologies, their effectiveness in emission reductions, the scale of operations, product use and environmental impact. What is clear is that the management of menstrual waste is lagging far behind the fast-growing disposable product market.

If sanitary pads are to be a safe, hygienic option for girls and women, safe management of menstrual waste must be a part of programmatic and policy dialogues. The voices of girls, women and waste collectors need to be heard and incorporated to ensure that appropriate solutions are implemented.

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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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