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Are you Irresponsibly Dumping Sanitary Pads At The Cost of Human Dignity And Health?

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Sarru Waghmare, a waste collector at Swach said, “I have been diagnosed with bacterial infections multiple times. It still shocks me when I and my co-workers segregate menstrual waste by hand and deal with unbearable smell and insects every day”.

Ever wondered what happens to your sanitary waste after you dump it in the dustbin? Well, the sanitary workers segregate those using their hands. Usually, covered sanitary pads are mixed with the liquids in the garbage, which tears the cover. Rain makes the matter worse.

Urban Transformations: In Pune, India, Waste Pickers Go from Trash to Treasure | TheCityFix
Representational image only.

Uncovered sanitary pads cause bacteria to multiply. It exposes them to multiple deadly pathogens including staphylococcus, hepatitis, E Coli and salmonella.

Post segregation, the sanitary waste is driven out of the city and settled in a landfill. As it is non-biodegradable waste, it ends up staying in landfills for 500-800 years. This results in overflowing landfills, causing permanent harm to the environment. We compromise a lot of land resources, converting them into landfills.

Khushboo, a resident of Trilokpuri says “ Ghazipur landfill is just a stone throw from my house. It smells so bad. In 2017, it slipped and 3 people lost their lives”. Imagine how much of the landfill is only used sanitary pads!

In India, 353 million menstruating women generate 1,230 crore soiled pads which result in 44,125 million kilograms of menstruating waste every year.

Of this, 28% is thrown along with other domestic waste, 26% is dumped in the open, 23% gets buried, 15% is burnt in the open, and 8% is thrown in toilets. This jeopardizes the environment and the health of sanitary workers.

Throwing used sanitary pads in open spaces and burning them in the open harms the environment. Burying commercial sanitary pads adds to the misery as it is not biodegradable. It pollutes the soil. Flushing chokes the sewer.

My friend Laiba plants trees every 6 months. She shared, “Each time I dig up to put my sapling, I find plastic inside the soil. Once I found a used pad as well. People dispose of pads without releasing the after effects!”

The sanitary pads especially the one with “odour lock gel” get stuck into the sewer and don’t get cleared with the machine. Unfortunately, it has to be a human hand that goes inside the sewer to remove it. Exposing them to multiple health issues and resulting in lost dignity.

Representational image only.

Segregation of sanitary waste using hands is a form of manual scavenging. It is a cause of worry. The right to live with dignity is everyone’s right. Do not wait for the government or sanitary product manufacturers to offer better solutions, take matters into your hands. Here is what you can do to cut down menstrual waste –

  1. Switch to eco-friendly pads – Ever heard of reusable sanitary napkins? These are made from 3-4 layers of cloth stitched together. It involves zero plastic. It can be washed and reused for a period of 1.5-3 years. This is an advanced and hygienic version of cloth pads.
  2. Switch to menstrual cups – Menstrual cups are made of silicon that can be inserted into the vagina during menstruation. It simply collects the blood. Unlike regular pads, menstrual cups are reusable and can last up to 5-10 years. These are way more hygienic and eco-friendlier than sanitary napkins.
  3. Raise your Voice – Raise your voice against the subtle practice of manual scavenging in India. Demand MHM, menstrual waste management and dignity of sanitary workers.

The Red dot campaign by SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling Cooperative Society), in Pune, is a step towards providing dignity to sanitary workers. Women put a red dot on their sanitary waste which pardons the workers to segregate it without opening it.

As per Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate, it is mandatory for manufacturers to provide a recyclable pouch or wrapper for proper disposal of menstrual waste whenever they sell their products.

As per MHM guidelines issued by the Ministry of Drinking Waste and Sanitation 2015, sanitary pads are to be dumped after covering it with a newspaper or pouch.

The best way of treating sanitary waste is burying them deep if they are biodegradable sanitary pads or burning them in incinerators. Though there is a lot that has to be done, a start has to be made. We must start segregating our menstrual waste.

There are many who feel disgusted with their own period blood. Imagine the plight of those who touch your used sanitary pads! Be a sensitive human and make the switch.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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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.

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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 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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