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Govts Have Launched Menstrual Schemes For School-Going Girls, But Where Are The Girls?

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Menstrual hygiene has been a concern in many schools in rural India. Basic WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities become a barrier to creating a safe environment for menstruating individuals. In many states, free pad schemes distribute packets of pads to girls every month. But who is monitoring the quality and effectiveness of these sanitary pads? Are the children really using it or not? Also, are the WASH facilities adequate in schools?

WASH Facilities In Schools: The Present Situation

WASH facilities are often inadequate in institutions such as schools. Schools are the place where students spend the maximum of their productive time. With context to rural schools, many schools do not have adequate WASH facilities. According to a report by the Annual Status of Education report 2016, only 74.1% of schools have drinking water facilities, while just 61.9% have separate toilet facilities for girls. The specified norm for the toilet-to-girl student ratio is 1:40, according to the Swachh Bharat Swachh Vidyalaya guidelines. Along with gender-segregated toilet facility, handwashing units with soap should be provided.

Proper WASH facilities may encourage students to incorporate good hygienic habits in their daily lives. It can promote handwashing at critical times — i.e. before taking meals and after using the toilet. It will also promotes handwashing with soap, which is even more crucial today because of the Covid-19 situation. Also, schools are the most appropriate place to build these habits as students imbibe what’s taught to them at a younger age.

WASH facilities ensure every children’s well-being. Image has been provided by the author.

So, instilling WASH practices from a young age is beneficial, especially in times of Covid-19, where handwashing is a highlighted measure to prevent infection. The best hygienic practices are taught to students by schools that have proper WASH facilities. But what about the schools that don’t have adequate WASH facilities?

The Disquieting Figure

In an appalling article by the NDTV, it was stated that 23 million women in India drop out of school every year when they start menstruating due to lack of menstrual hygiene management in schools. The reasons for this lack of management are lack of functional toilets and sanitary napkins, and low menstrual awareness.

Providing WASH facilities is only one part of the service. If water is available, but is not of good quality or, in a similar manner, if toilets are built but not maintained, then it again poses an equivalent problem of inadequate WASH facility standards.

Steps Taken By Authorities

Now, let’s highlight the free pad schemes that governments have incorporated to supply free pads to school-going girls. In 2010, the MoHFW launched a pilot project called Freeday Pad Scheme to supply sanitary pads to rural girls at a subsidised rate. After this, the government introduced the Sabla scheme, with menstrual hygiene as its central component. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (a sanitation mission) launched by the Ministery for Drinking Water and Sanitation also focuses on menstrual hygiene.

Child engaged in learning. Image has been provided by the author.

In 2014, the Swach Bharat Mission (Gramin) allocated funds for raising awareness on menstrual hygiene in villages through IEC (Information, Education, Communication) activities. Since 2018, many state governments have launched schemes to supply free pads to rural women and girls in schools: Kerala’s She Pad Scheme, Chhattisgarh’s Suchita Scheme, Maharashtra’s Asmita Scheme, Odisha’s Khushi Scheme and Andhra Pradesh’s Raksha Scheme.

While on one hand, schemes are launched for school-going girls, on the other, there are reports of a large number of girls dropping out of schools (5.13 lakh girls in Uttar Pradesh dropped out) due to lack of sanitation and menstrual hygiene facilities in schools. Isn’t it ironical that such an outsized number of girls skip school due to lack of WASH facilities during menstruation as governments are focusing on providing free pads. To whom are these pads being provided then?

Also, as menstruation isn’t a frequently discussed topic, who is monitoring the standard of the distributed pads? Is someone liable for taking feedback of the students who receive the pads? There are some unanswered questions.

My Opinion

The steps that people in authority take towards menstrual hygiene should be chronological. Firstly, the focus should be on providing adequate water and sanitation facilities, such as handwashing units within the prescribed ratio and with soap facilities in a sustainable manner.

The next step should be installing a pad-vending machine and a proper disposable system in schools. For all these to be functional, water should be available within an accepted quantity and quality. So, for students to be present in school physically and mentally, dealing with WASH facilities must be done adequately.

Featured image has been provided by the author.
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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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