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By Neglecting Menarche, We’re Also Neglecting Menopausal Women

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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.

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Unequal development in different countries in the promotion of health and control of diseases is a common danger.” – WHO

Sustainable development goals 2 and 5 focus on good health, well being, and gender equality. But in a democratic country like India, whose principle is “Unity in diversity“, women face a great degree of discrimination and challenging issues in the field of menstrual health management.

Sexual and Reproductive Health is an important yet neglected part of women’s health throughout the ages. Starting from menstruation, the reproductive organ performs multiple functions, fights with infections and suffers from diseases. It has to go through the journey of pregnancy and its complication, abortion, delivery. Various kinds of infections, infertility, side effects of contraception, preterm birth, low birth weight infant etc. are some other issues.

So women need proper education, facility, care and support to manage with the regular change process of their body, that is, menarche and menstruation. To attain the SDGs and to enhance the democratic value, different schemes and programmes have been implemented by the government of India. The Menstrual Hygiene Scheme and adolescent-friendly health clinics under Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram are to name a few.

These schemes are meant for the health and overall development of women. But menstrual hygiene management has remained in the dark due to various socio-cultural aspects associated with it.

Menstruation is a biological process. But the stigmas associated with it make it an unnatural and unacceptable thing for society. Besides, the poor economic condition, lack of proper education and awareness, less debate on it, unavailability of proper infrastructure for MHM, creates great danger for the women’s health and well being.

Menstruation not only brings physical change but other side-effects like fatigue, irritation, menstrual cramps etc. If these are not appropriately managed, they can cause chronic diseases in future. Consumption of contraception pills like emergency contraceptive pills, oral contraceptive pills and Norethisterone (a period delay tablet) can also create hormonal imbalance in the body.

Due to the lack of hygienic menstrual products, women and girls generally use old dirty clothes. They can’t maintain proper hygiene due to lack of MHM facilities both at home and in any institution or public places.

Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to many issues such as bacterial infections of the reproductive tract and urinary tract. Irritation of the skin causes discomfort and can result in dermatitis (a medical condition, in which the skin swells, turns red and at times becomes sore). If such infections are not diagnosed and appropriately treated in time, they can increase the chances of cervical cancer, infertility, and abortion.

Though blood is lost from the body every month for 3-5 days, a balanced diet with sufficient iron intake is highly essential to reduce the chances of anaemia. But either due to unavailability of sufficient food or stigma or unawareness, menstruators don’t take a proper diet.

Unfortunately, 54% of adolescent girls, 53% of women of reproductive age and 50% of pregnant women and seriously 58% of children (5-59 month) are anaemic in India (NFHS-4). This results in the increased status of IMR, MMR, NMR, CBR, which are the key health indicators of any country.

Menopause is also one of the most critical components relating to menstruation. Though many organisations and activists are working in this field to ensure the availability of better MHM facilities for the menstruator, very few people talk about it.

Generally, menopause occurs at the age of 48-55 in a menstruator’s life. It is an important phase because many physical and psychological changes occur during this process. This process occurs with associated symptoms like night sweat, frequent urination, vaginal dryness, low sex drive, mood fluctuation, insomnia, weight gain, decreased bone density, painful intercourse etc.

But very few people have any understanding of it. This again makes women more vulnerable. Because without having information and support, with a large amount of other responsibility and decreasing bodily strength, it can influence their mental health gravely.

On addressing a training programme on MHM, Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, Secretary-General of GIWA said, “On average, a woman spends seven years of her life span menstruating. If you were sending your sister, daughter or wife somewhere for seven years, wouldn’t you make sure it was as safe, healthy and comfortable as possible?

We must ensure menstrual health for all. We need to openly discuss menstrual safety and break our silence so that our daughters and sisters can be provided with a safe sanitation environment. This clearly shows her call for men’s participation in the process and practice of providing a conducive environment to women for better management of menstrual hygiene.

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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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