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How Civil Society Innovated Menstrual Health And Hygiene Interventions During Lockdown

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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.

Written by: Subhiksha Manoj and Bharti Kannan from Boondh

India’s 1.3 billion people were ordered to stay in for three weeks starting March 24th, 2020, to tackle the spread of the coronavirus. However, it soon became clear that this solution did not suit the needs of the nation. One way this fact was demonstrated was by the exodus of over 40 million internal migrants who took to the streets and started crossing state borders on foot.

The sanitary napkin crisis was another instance that signalled the unmet sanitary needs of over 355 million menstruating women. More than 30% (exclusive of Transgender, Gender Non-Binary menstruators) of our country’s population was left with anxiety and lack of control over their menstrual hygiene.

Enter Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) NGOs in India. Our country has a well-established network of over 3.4 million NGOs. According to The Central Statistical Organisation of India, there are around four MHH NGOs for every 1,000 people in urban areas and 2.3 NGOs for every 1,000 rural population. This means that a good percentage of the population, fortunately, had access to redressal over their MHH concerns.

Image Credit: Feminism In India

In this article, we highlight some of the contributions made by MHH organisations and civil society in India during the lockdown and discuss how they adapted to the Covid landscape.

The Intervention Of NGOs And Civil Society

One main reason that the impact of the work put in by most NGOs is far higher than that of the government is that NGOs take a fundamentally different approach — a need-based approach. This bottom-up method is crucial to understand where and how the larger system (schemes) needs to readjust to gainfully service its target, even during emergencies. Myna Mahila Foundation, a Mumbai-based NGO that manufactures sanitary napkins and employs women from communities, ran a campaign to disseminate menstrual hygiene lessons through WhatsApp.

Amidst the lockdown, cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc in the eastern parts of West Bengal, leaving many homeless, injured and in dire need of help. Anahat, a Kolkata-based NGO, having previously interacted with the communities there, returned with MHH aid. They distributed kits, each including four cloth pads and one underwear.

Relief kits for menstrual needs provided by Anahat.

Many advised us to give out sanitary napkins, but in these areas, they do not use one. Tribal women don’t even use underwear. Giving them sanitary pads means we have to ask them to pay a lot more. They live in forests close to heritage sites. They will be polluting these areas inevitably. We didn’t want to play with all these factors,” says Namrata Karamchandani, Founder of Anahat.

They distributed 6,000-7,000 kits in disrupted areas, including the Sunderbans. This drive was organised in collaboration with Paint it Red and the German Consulate, which partly funded the initiative, apart from other donors and individuals.

Dr Sneha Rooh, a palliative physician and founder of Orikalankini, has started the fundraiser ‘Pads That Last – Leave no one Padless’ on Milaap. The initiative aims to collect Rs 99,000 to be able to make cloth pads so that emergencies don’t leave anyone padless. So far, 25 workshops have been conducted in the remote and far-flung villages of Kargil and reusable cloth pads distributed to 800 young girls, teachers and Anganwadi workers.

menstrual
Fundraiser for Pads That Last by Orikalankini

We are making sure that people have food, medicines and masks, but periods don’t stop for pandemics. When there are little savings and no jobs, often a decision arises: shall I buy pads or food? This decision, however, is very very silent. The impacts of this decision are only on the menstruator. No one knows. No one needs to know no,” wrote Dr Rooh to encourage people to donate.

This, again, is a collaboration with Enactus and Mool creations to provide high-quality cotton pad ‘potli’ to women in various rural and conflict conditions. A set consists of three cloth pads that cost Rs 150 per pack and will last beyond the lockdown (up to two years if properly washed and dried in sunlight).

This is one of the hundreds of fundraisers on platforms such as Milaap that look into meeting MHH needs of underserved communities, especially on creating long-lasting solutions. Anahat also employed women to manufacture the cloth pads that were distributed in Amphan-affected regions. As a result, women earned Rs 15,000 during a short span of relief work. “This adds significantly to a household that has lost its livelihood. We are very happy and proud that we could have them on board,” said Karamchandani.

Taking up opportunities to help marginalised communities make their own livelihood and providing them with long-term solutions paint a very promising picture for the welfare of all. Community engagement is truly the key to building trust between NGOs and civil society. It is also important to foster these relationships for future collaborations.

Local government bodies must collaborate with grassroots organisations that will encourage and push for needs-based interventions. While there have been such collaborations in the past, “it just takes some time to reach them.”

Alakshi Tomari, co-founder of TruCups, has collaborated with United Nations Development Programme, the government of Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, District Commission of Jharkhand and the Airport Authority of India before the lockdown. “It was not easy to get in touch with these government authorities directly. We had to go through common connections of people who have previously collaborated with government authorities via fellowships/ internships etc. Very rarely cold calls work,” she says.

Rangeen Khidki Foundation in Kolkata, on the other hand, tried reaching out to the local government officials and various departments over email only to receive no response. In these emails, Sanjina Gupta, Founder and Executive Director of the foundation, had requested that women’s health and hygiene do not take the backseat during emergencies and also explained the possible repercussions if it did. She also suggested ways to ensure that the supply chain is not interrupted.

Menstrual
Email to local government authorities by Sanjina Gupta

In West Bengal, at least three political parties are always at loggerheads — the TMCP, BJP and CPM. This actually creates challenges to reach people on ground. Other than that, there were simply no funds being directed to MHH needs. They were being directed to multiple other causes. For example, when the Amphan cyclone hit the state, PM Modi did a visual survey and denied the State government itself the funds it had requested to rebuild the shore. Migrant labourers due to the lockdown were coming back to the state as well.

Irrespective of the support by the government, a number of initiatives have been conducted within the capacities of the NGOs. Mumbai-based Myna ran a campaign to disseminate menstrual hygiene lessons through WhatsApp. They also employed an eight-point plan to support the vulnerable with basic ration, sanitary needs and general health check.

Another Mumbai-based NGO, Kavach – A Movement, made essential kits for the poor that included a big packet of sanitary pads, three underwears, towel, soap and washing bar. YP Foundation, based in Noida, and GOONJ, based in Delhi, produced instructional videos on how to make cloth pads at home.

WAVE in Ladakh organised menstrual hygiene workshops in collaboration with other local NGOs and social enterprises including KASCO and Roots Ladakh to improve and ensure menstrual hygiene for girls in Kargil. So far, 25 workshops have been conducted in the remote and far-flung villages of Kargil and have reusable cloth pads have been distributed to 800 young girls, teachers and Anganwadi workers.

These are only a few among a thousand initiatives that civil society responded to regarding its MHH needs. Please note that Boondh does not have any preferential associations as we highlight some of their work.

All images have been provided by the author.

Note: The article was originally published on Feminism in India and re-published here with their permission.

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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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