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Did You Know That People With Disabilities Bleed Too?

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In a 2019 event by Outlook magazine, Deepa Malik gave a speech about the dual taboos that cling to menstruators with disabilities. Deepa Malik is the first Indian woman athlete to win a medal in the Paralympic games; she is paralyzed from her chest.

Deepa Malik Talks About The Whispered Talks Of The Society

During her speech, she talks about the concerned yet, judgmental whispers that spoke with precariousness about her future, and also that of her paralyzed daughter. She points out that people raised questions and doubts about how a disabled girl would manage her menstruation without depending on someone and penalized them with “aisi bacchi jo khud kuch bhi na kar sake toh mar he jaaye toh theek hai.” (it’s better for a girl who cannot do anything by herself to die)

People with disabilities – mental and physical – are generally put into a box, their whole identities subsumed within their disabilities by society. It gets worse for people existing at the intersections of a disability and gender — ‘how on earth will they manage their periods?’ Instead of finding better amenities for disabled menstruators, society engages in some antiquated gossip and stops at that.

Maharogi Sewa Samiti, an NGO, conducted a survey in Maharashtra to understand some issues faced by menstruators with disabilities. A conundrum they came across: how can menstruation be explained to a neurodivergent 16-year-old person with the brain of a 2-year-old?

Another instance would be menstruators with cerebral palsy who struggle to maintain their menstrual hygiene, as their mental disability affects their muscle coordination and muscle strength.  In scenarios where people have physical disabilities such as a visual impairment, many may find difficulties with the placement of their pads and figuring out when they are full and need to be changed; or people in a wheelchair may need to depend on someone to help them during their periods due to limited movement.

Period Products And Disabilities.

Menstruators with disabilities may also face multiple challenges while using menstrual products. Sanitary napkins may be ham-handed for some; tampons and menstrual cups become invasive if one is not able to use them by themselves; menstrual cups may also be tricky to insert considering the fettered movement abilities of some; period underwears are workable but come with the problem of regularly washing them. Most people make-do with one of these menstrual products available, but none of these products are better suited to accommodate the hindrances posed by their disorders.

Poverty And Disability

Menstruators with disabilities who are further disadvantaged by period poverty encounter an avalanche of issues during menstruation. In India, many parents opt to sterilize or conduct forcible hysterectomies on their girl children with disabilities to evade the difficult task of maintaining their menstrual hygiene.

Because of a lack of education, most parents are not aware of or even made aware of the side-effects of such procedures. This goes against their basic human and menstrual rights.

People with physical impairments and no support may have to drag themselves to the toilet in an unclean and unsanitary environment. If the WASH facilities are far away, it further makes the accessibility difficult.

These are a few ruptures that make menstruation a strenuous task for menstruators with disabilities. However, these experiences aren’t set in stone across the bandwidth of disorders or any single disorder; because each person may have different experiences; for instance, a blind person may be perfectly capable of wearing a sanitary napkin but might face some other issues.

Where Does Society Falter?

While the focus on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has become increasingly prevalent in the WASH sector, the discourse is usually devoid of the special attention that needs to be given to people with disabilities. A 2016 census revealed that there are 2.68 crore disabled people in India.

The predicament of PWDs is often absent from initiatives dedicated to Menstruation – reducing their accessibility to menstrual aids. People trained to work with people with disabilities aren’t specifically trained to deal with their health issues like Menstruation.

Also, the availability of helpers may not be perpetual, posing risks to a PWD’s hygiene. We need to come up with disabled-friendly sanitation facilities and menstrual products. PWDs need to be directly involved in discussions addressing the issue of Menstruation – offering them a voice and more visibility.

A clarion call to reduce the plight of menstruators with disabilities will not just make Menstruation more inclusive but also help uplift an otherwise marginalized community.

Feature Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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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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