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.
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.