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Menstruation and Human Rights- Is there a nexus?


Menstruation- a topic which is still a shame to be talked upon, even after more than 70 years of independence. There are myths, stigmas, and taboos associated with the topic which are fading away but the pace of the same is very slow. In a report by WaterAid, it was revealed that around 54% of the girls were unaware of the process of menstruation when they had their menarche; considering that there are around 113 million menstruating girls in the country, this percentage is actually very huge and needs our attention. Meanwhile, there are intersections associated with menstruation that are even not talked upon, one such intersection is of Menstruation and Human Rights. In the era where there are innumerable human rights activists but still, somehow, this intersection is left ignored either partially or completely.

To begin with, menstruation is a biological process, starting with the onset of puberty in menstruators, in which the uterus sheds off the inner lining of fibers and tissues after the egg released from the ovary does not get fertilized. It is a periodic cycle, repeated after 28 days on an average, and often referred to as periods. While human rights, in layman’s terms, are the rights to which every individual is entitled to by the very virtue of them being humans and their human dignity.

Human Rights in Question

At the intersection of Menstruation and Human Rights, there are various aspects related and intertwined. Imagine someone having periods while running for their life and facing the dilemma of whether to save life or to stop to get menstrual products. Access to menstrual products is an issue we are not really concerned with as a Human Rights issue.

While in Nepal, Chaupadi Pratha sees menstruation as a sign of impurity, and the women are not allowed to enter their houses or temples during menstruation. This is what is a primarily Human Rights issue of restricting the free movement, the boundary being set, and the possible mishappenings that might come up for instance the choking because of no ventilation. Though, the isolation of menstruating women is now criminalized yet there is a long road ahead in terms of awareness and the menstrual shame that is associated.

The affordability of menstrual products is something that is not a very popular issue even amongst the Menstrual Hygiene activists. “Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health,” Sanjay Wijesekera, former UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene said. In India, only 12% of the women have access to sanitary products while the rest still are trying to find the way out. Lack of toilets and missing schools because of unavailability of menstrual hygiene facilities is something which is never seen from the lens of Human Rights but, right to education is a human right and no one should miss the school just because of the reason that a shame is associated with a process which is entirely normal, natural and biological.

The right to health has been recognized as a human right but is it really possible to achieve this without working upon the issue of menstrual hygiene? Certainly not. Moreover, if one is not healthy, the person cannot enjoy their other rights such as that work, education, information, and housing.

Non Negotiable Rights

Women’s rights are non-negotiable. Also to be specifically noted, menstruation is an important part and/or process of a woman’s life thus discrimination based on menstruation, access to toilets, affordability of safe menstrual products is something which cannot be negotiated upon. Right to Sanitation is having very high proximity with menstrual hygiene thereby with privacy and health in general. Gender Equality is what gets shattered every time there is any sort of discrimination because of menstruation or if a menstruator has no access to safe menstrual hygiene practices.

International Framework

Comprehensive Guides depicting the direct correlation between menstrual hygiene and human rights can help a long way both in awareness and at the policy level. Also, they could help understand how big the subject really is and why it is necessary to bring menstrual hygiene under the human rights framework. CEDAW Convention, Convention on The Rights of the Child. 

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are the international frameworks that can be associated in direct connection with menstrual hygiene.

Breaking the Silence

According to Inga Winkler, a lecturer at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, applying a human rights’ framework to MHH requires us to “understand and address the lived experiences of all menstruators shaped by marginalization, discrimination, and inequalities, to look beyond access to products and menstrual hygiene to address menstrual stigma; and to address the underlying structural causes of unmet needs”. Breaking the silence associated with menstruation, the disparities that exist due to the very reason for menstruation would come to light and might be addressed by those at the policymaking level. Men like Pravin Nikam are setting new examples and definitions for the world to follow and are an example as to how non-menstruators can help a long way in this battle with unawareness.


Recognition of menstrual hygiene as a Human Rights issue by the United Nations is a welcome step but a lot has to be done for menstrual hygiene to be actually recognized as a human right in most countries. The discrimination needs to be disempowered and the taboos have to be broken. Twofold awareness needs to be raised around the issues of menstruation and Human Rights. The impurity associated with menstruation has to be shredded and both the boys and girls need to be made aware of the menstruation. Only when every menstruator has access to safe sanitary products, has access to toilets and the girls do not have to quit their school with the onset of menstruation, only then equality might see its dawn. Though there are many more challenges ahead resolving this intersection would make the roads easier to walk upon to end other problems. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals would become one step closer if menstrual hygiene is guaranteed and the world actually would seem to be less unequal.

A world with fewer inequalities, less discrimination, and the rights actually being imparted and ensured, would definitely be better than we are currently in.

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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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