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Here’s How The ‘Pink Flag Movement’ Is Ensuring Girl’s Don’t Drop Out Of School

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This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

My favourite colour is pink. It is the colour of love and emotions. It is the colour of my flag. The flag that I wave with pride.

Menstruation is a natural part of the reproductive cycle that a woman experiences. However, the taboos surrounding menstruation and menstrual health in India have given rise to a serious case of Period Poverty in the country. It refers to a situation where women lack sanitary products and related essentials such as functional, sanitised toilets with clean water.

According to the latest figures from charity Sanitation First, one in five menstruating girls living in poverty in rural India drop out of school when they start their period—that’s 10 million every single year.

menstruation
Representative Image.

Acting upon the concerning situation, the Government of India has recognised the importance of menstrual hygiene to the health, well-being and educational achievements of girls and women and has developed several programs to improve Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) in schools, targeted at improving knowledge, access and disposal of menstrual waste, and improving sanitation in schools, with support from several organisations.

Production and marketing of low-cost sanitary pads, government-subsidised sanitary pads in rural areas, school vending machines for sanitary pads and pad incinerators and increasing gender-separated toilet facilities are some of the key features of this scheme.

West Bengal is one of those States trying to implement the directions of MHM and bring a positive change in the general attitude of how menstruation is viewed in society. In the recent National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), young women between ages 15 and 24 were asked the various hygienic method(s) they use during menstruation.

In West Bengal, 79.7% of rural women used a “hygienic method” of menstrual protection compared to 91.2% of urban women. The NFHS-5 considered only locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins, tampons and menstrual cups to be hygienic methods of protection.

Although a huge gap of accessibility between urban and rural women still exists, this is still a huge improvement from the previous NFHS-4 report, which found that only 47.6% of rural women used “hygienic methods” of protection during menstruation.

One such initiative that has helped advocate for menstrual health and awareness, especially in the rural areas, is the “Pink Flag Movement” in the Zilla Parishad of Nadia in West Bengal. The movement is unique both in its structure and form. Aiming at holistic awareness regarding menstruation from the very grassroots level, the campaign aims to educate young girls in schools and has seven large components:

  1. Social Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) on MHM.
  2. Having peer leaders and facilitating an idea of community learning.
  3. Training/Orientation for the community resource person.
  4. Availability of sanitary napkins at the grassroots level through manufacturing initiatives.
  5. Increasing access to the last mile consumer.
  6. Facilitating environment-friendly disposal of sanitary napkins.
  7. Research impact assessment.

 

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The initiative has been launched in about 24 schools. The movement is being implemented by forming clubs named “Pink Flag Club” comprising 30-40 members, with the support of Understanding the Tendencies of Social Asymmetry (UTSA), the partner organisation involved in aiding the movement.

In an interview, Mr Shiben Bhattacharya, the Nadia District Coordinator, said, “The main idea is to form these school-level clubs comprising about 40 students headed by female teachers. We wish to normalise menstruation as something natural happening to females on a monthly basis. 

“The students are being taught about menstruation and menstrual hygiene management through case studies, stories, and other colourful and fun-filled activities about menstrual hygiene management and overall perception about menstruation.”

The movement is different from any other period positive movement seen in the country because herein, the importance is given to these young school girls at the very foundational level. The movement aims to educate young school girls about menstruation in an attempt to create voices that would spearhead this campaign later in the future.

By using modern means like films, quizzes, drama and more, the movement is expanding and gaining momentum every day. The district administration plans to spread the movement across the district and reach more institutions.

Additionally, the district administration has installed two sanitary napkin manufacturing units—one in Duttapulia in Ranaghat II block and another in Patikabari in Nakashipara block to be operated by SHG Clusters. Both the units are technologically advanced and capable of manufacturing around 10,000 sanitary napkins per day.

To achieve true gender equality, girls must attend and reach their full potential in schools. If the girl does not have a safe, comfortable and hygienic place to manage her period in school, she is missing 5 days of school a month on average. By the time she is in the 9th or 10th grade, she is so far behind her male peers that she is forced to drop out.

Education is a means of empowerment, of self-sustainability. Hence, it is imperative that girls are provided with adequate knowledge, means and support regarding menstruation in their educational institutions.

In a cross-sectional study conducted among 200 adolescent girl students of a Government school located in Behala West circle in Kolkata, it was found that 59% of the candidates were not aware of menstruation before menarche.

Girls need to be aware of menarche, the biology behind menstruation and be able to manage their menstruation in a safe environment with proper access to hygienic menstrual materials and facilities for changing and disposing of menstrual items.

Girls dropping out of schools due to improper facilities holds them back from having a job in the future. This is not a women’s issue; this is a GDP issue.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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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 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)’.

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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 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
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