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Why Is Menstrual Health Such A Challenge In India?

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Menstrual health. We’ve all heard about it. But what is it anyway? why is it so important? Menstrual health is the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in relation to the menstrual cycle. In simple terms, it refers to staying healthy and hygienic physically, mentally, and socially during periods.

Having good menstrual health is crucial for the well-being of all menstruators. When I say “menstruators”, I refer to every person who menstruates/has periods. It is important to understand that not every menstruator is a woman and not everyone who identifies as a woman menstruates. There are approximately 355 million menstruators in India and, according to an article in “The Wire”, over 40% of young women in India use unhygienic menstrual protection. With that number, it is no shock that India’s menstrual health and hygiene is such a challenging development issue.

What Is The Reason Behind Poor Menstrual Health In India?

  1. He who must not be named:

If you thought there are no longer any taboos attached to menstruation in India and that we’ve successfully battled away the shame related to periods and normalized the ‘period talk’, I hate to be the one to break your bubble. Yes, it’s 2021 and we’re still ashamed of periods.

Periods are still considered taboo and people still shy away from talking about them. This has created a lack of education around it. According to one study, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation before their first period. Parents only rarely prepare their children and most of them lack scientific knowledge about puberty and menstruation, and a lot of schools are reluctant regarding educating them about menstruation too.

Periods are basically Voldemort. With all the hush-hush around “he who must not be named”, it is inevitable for young menstruators to have no clue about the blood rushing out of their vaginas; and thus, the unpleasant state of menstrual health in India.

  1. Andhvishwas (myths), aka things that make no sense:

Let’s go through the list of all the most common myths related to menstruation in India, shall we?

  • Can’t enter a place of worship
  • Can’t enter the kitchen
  • Can’t wash your hair
  • Can’t celebrate religious festivals
  • Can only enter a place of worship if you’ve washed your hair on or after the 5th day.
  • Can’t touch flowers or any plants. They’ll die if you do.
  • Can’t touch pickle. They’ll go bad if you do.
  • Whatever you touch can become impure.
  • Can’t drink cold beverages, they’ll give cramps.

…And the list goes on. Absurd, isn’t it? Women in India have to go through this absurdity every month, and most women follow it religiously. Now, how are we supposed to have good menstrual health when we are stripped out of the basic hygiene practice of washing our hair?

  1. Toilet: Ek Prem Katha:

The lack of toilets and the absence of waste management systems in rural areas make it difficult for rural menstruators to have safe and hygienic periods. I don’t know what else to say. This point is very clear and straightforward. There is no further explanation needed.

  1. The double P: Period Poverty:

To understand this point, we’ll have to do a little math. An average menstruator, in their lifetime, has about 456 periods, i.e 2280 days of blood, cramps, and mood swings.

Sanitary product  Cost per product  Cost per period
Sanitary pads   Rs 5-7   Rs 150
Tampons   Rs 12-14   Rs 250
Menstrual cups (lasts about 5-8 years)   Rs 500

 

 

  Rs 500
Pantyliners   Rs 4-6   Rs 120

This will add up to Rs 70,000 – Rs 1,60,000 for 456 periods. And that’s not it, there’s more. We would also need pain killers, heating pads, new underwear to replace the stained ones, comfort food, etc. Adding it all up, in an entire lifetime, periods could cost us over a whopping Rs 2,30,000. Wow, all that money for a basic biological process.

Out of the 355 million menstruators in India, 70.62 million are living below the poverty line. This means, 70.62 million menstruators can’t even afford basic menstrual hygiene products. According to menstrual health experts, this situation is getting even worse due to the current coronavirus crisis.

What Can We Do To Help Make Menstrual Health Accessible To Everyone?

  1. Educate yourself and others around you about menstrual health and its importance.
  2. Volunteer in organizations and causes that help to make menstrual health more accessible.
  3. Donate whatever you can to make menstrual health more accessible.

In this journey of making menstrual health more accessible in India, small steps have been taken. In 2018, India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products. Though this is a win, there is still a long way ahead.

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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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