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Here’s How Period Poverty Breaches Fundamental Rights Of Menstruators

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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.

Although the majority MHM policies focus upon free distribution of pads, period poverty remains a harsh reality in India. It is inclusive of a lack of correct knowledge and awareness regarding periods. It had an adverse effect on menstruators human rights.

Mehar is a domestic helper. She goes to her village during harvesting season to help her parents in the field. While working on the farm, she got her periods. As she was away from her habitat, she used some dry grass to manage her periods. “Uss din khet mein this, tabh aa gye. Ghar dur tha. Jati toh sbko dikh jata, badhnami hoti. Log mazak bhi odate hei. Toh sukhi ghass lga li aur kaam kar ke hi gyi,” She said.

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As per the NFHS (National Family Health Survey) 2015-16, 57.6% of menstruators aged between 15-24 use sanitary pads. The rest resort to other methods to manage their periods. The reason behind this ranges from non-affordable menstrual hygiene products to social stigma attached to periods. Many women in rural India are switching to disposable pads due to lack of WASH facilities.

Mehar continued to use dry grass as she was ashamed drying used cloth. She said, “Kapda lagati toh kaha sukhati? Ghar mein papa aur bhai hei aur bahar logo ko dikh jata. Sheher mein hoti hu toh pad mill jata hei. Waha dukaan mei mard hote the. (There was no place to dry cloth. I could not do it in home because of my father’s and brother’s presence. Drying it outside is a big no-no because it would have been seen by all. Had I been in the city, I would have used a pad. There were no ladies in the shop in my village. I was ashamed of buying it from a man).

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to live with dignity and the right to health. However, it is breached for hundreds of Mehar every day. She got a severe vaginal infection as a result of using dry grass.

While lack of sensitization towards menstruators and the inadequate number of toilets with proper facility remains a vital issue, disabled women go an extra mile in fighting their battle. They are forced to wear diapers in places of their workplace due to lack of facility of toilets for disabled. This leaves them more prone to health issues related to periods.

Poor menstrual hygiene can cause physical health risks which are linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections. Around 40 % of urban girls and 36% of rural girls’ experience abdominal pain or discomfort during menstruation and the proportion does not vary very much by age.

90.2% menstruators stated that they face at least one issue during their periods. Around 89.71% of women said that periods affect their productivity. The reason for this is either physical problems such as backache, headache, cramps, itchiness etc. or due to the low infrastructure availability, i.e. clean water and toilet, disposal of menstrual hygiene products etc.

Article 21A guarantees education for all children of the age 6 to 14. The State has been failing to ensure this for millions of young menstruators. Girls in India reach menarche at an average age of 13.26 years. Period Poverty forces girls to dropout of school. Twenty-three million girls opt-out of school annually due to lack of menstrual hygiene management.

They fear stigma and face serious health problems. They cannot buy sanitary napkins either because they cannot afford them or because they are not available in the area. Around 40% of all government schools in India lack proper functioning of standard toilets, and 40% lack separate toilets for girls.

The absence of a menstrual-friendly environment in schools adds more to the crisis. In rural areas, most teachers in schools are men. This intensifies the taboo. Female students are not comfortable to talk about the same with them, and vice versa.

Article 15 prohibits discrimination based on gender. However, period poverty is affecting only menstruators’ right to education. Hence, the lack of State’s support for Menstrual Hygiene Management is leading to gender-based discrimination.

The idea of “isolation huts” is alive in parts of Tamil Nadu, among some tribes such as Gonds and Madiya, from Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. These are bathroom-free huts which lack proper ventilation. These are usually in the outskirts of the village or near the forest area. Women are forced to stay in isolation here during their periods. They do not talk to anyone during this time.

This practice is a breach of Article 17, which prohibits untouchability, yet it is practised against menstruators. They are not allowed to cook, clean, enter the kitchen, water the plants and touch pickles. They are considered impure. In some cases, they are even not allowed to enter temples.

On average, a menstruator spends around 3000 days of their lives menstruating. These are 3000 days of injustice! We cannot call ourselves a developing nation when such is the plight of half of our population.

State has the responsibility to ensure the fundamental rights of all persons. High time that the State sees period poverty through the lens of fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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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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