Mumbai; May 28, 2019: Today, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), philanthropists, foundations, government officials and adolescents campaigned to involve men and boys in the conversations about menstrual hygiene to earmark the fifth consecutive Global Menstrual Hygiene (MH) Day. #Itstimeforaction was the global theme for the Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019. Under this theme NGOs across the globe hosted multiple gatherings with a call to action, platforms for conversations, and convenings with different stakeholders.
Dasra, a strategic philanthropy foundation, ran a social media campaign in collaboration with NGOs including Quest Alliance, Milaan Foundation, The YP Foundation and Women Win. The social media campaign enabled varied voices on the negative social norms and practices, men and boys experiences around menstruation, and the various sanitary products for an informed choice.
Menstrual Hygiene Management in India
India has around 355 million menstruating women and girls who face multilayered barriers to effective Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) due to various social and economic factors. According to the latest data collated by the Ministry of Health, only 12% of women and girls have access to sanitary napkins in India while a majority of them relies on outdated, unhygienic methods during menstruation.
Dr. Ajay Khera, Deputy Commissioner, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said, “Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is a priority for us. We understand that in order to empower adolescent girls to live a healthy and dignified life menstruation needs to be recognized as a health concept. We have already made Menstrual Hygiene Scheme an integral part of the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) to strengthen a discussion on menstrual health and hygiene, and improve access to menstrual hygiene products across India.” Dr. Khera further added, “As we notice an increase in rate of admissions to schools, we aim to make schools a key platform for improving the MHM ecosystem in India.”
Other factors like the lack of awareness about menstruation, which is a normal biological process, negative social attitudes towards menstruation act as a major barrier in the country. A 2016 study on ‘Menstrual Hygiene management among adolescent girls in India’, which was a systematic review and meta-analysis by van Eijk highlighted some alarming statistics:
While the government is working on the extraordinary task of providing 355 million women and girls with MHM facilities through programs such as Swachh Bharat, Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) and National Health Mission, greater collaboration is required to move the needle on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to MHM.
“Adolescence is a crucial time in a girl's life. She is in the middle of a maelstrom where decisions are being taken on her education, her physical and psychosocial wellbeing, her marriage, her future, her life. However, she does not really possess a voice nor can influence decisions. Centre for Catalyzing Change works with girls where they are - in communities, in schools, so that they develop capabilities to make decisions which help them reach their full potential and contribute to the wellbeing of their families and society and do away with restrictions which limit their horizon,” said Dr. Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3).
“Women and girls are eagerly seeking forums or platforms to voice their opinions and challenges. Menstruation to a vast demographic still remains a taboo topic. In this context, men and boys can play an active role in supporting women and girls to share their needs for effective Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). In many cases as men and boys are a big influence on decision making a woman’s experience of menstruation can be drastically altered for the better,” said Shireen Vakil, head of the Policy and Advocacy unit of the Tata Trusts. She further added, “Collaborations between community, government, NGOs, media, policy makers and researchers is a key requirement for changing the narratives on menstruation in India.”
Challenge of menstrual waste disposal
Creation of sustainable MHM ecosystem with menstrual waste disposal facilities is another major barrier for improving MHM in India. Reports suggest that India creates staggering 113,000 tonnes of menstrual waste annually that can take over 250 years to fully decompose. Lack of proper disposal facilities also leads to overuse of the menstrual hygiene products beyond the recommended time which puts women at the risk for infections. Lack of MHM facilities in schools affects the employability of the girls as 23 million of them drop out of school annually due to lack of proper MHM facilities.
Kavita Wankhade, Senior Lead – Practice, Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) said, “There is a trend today to promote particular kind of menstrual hygiene products. But we need to remember that women’s bodies are their own, and they have a right to choose what to use. Informed choice must underline all MHM programs- enabling access to multiple products, and also providing women with sufficient information regarding MHM.” To break the taboos around menstruation and facilitate discussion on multiple sustainable MHM products, IIHS hosted discussion ‘Breaking the Silence’.
Gender inequality lies at the core of India’s poor performance on MHM. Many girls and women cannot make informed decisions on MHM and their voices are often ignored in the communities, development programs and households due to unequal power sharing between men and women. Through various schemes and interventions, men and boys can positively influence women’s experiences of MHM as husbands, brothers, peers, teachers and policy makers.
Dr. Y. Malini Reddy, Associate Professor, Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) said, “Through our WASH in Schools program which trains two students and two teachers in each school, we have been able to tackle taboos attached to menstruation in government schools. This program teaches nutritious eating, helps young girls learn about their bodies and reproduction, and explains menstrual hygiene management (MHM). The Sani Warriors selected through this program educate and inform fellow students, their communities and families about MHM.”
She further added, “We’ve been able to train around 24,355 girls far and directly engaged with 288 stakeholders which includes teachers, heath workers & self-help groups through our program ‘Rosie’s World’. We realise the important role that boys and men can play in discussion and practice of safe MHM. We therefore include them as key stakeholders during capacity building and implementation.”
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Dasra, meaning ‘enlightened giving’ in Sanskrit, is a pioneering strategic philanthropic organization that aims for a transformed India where a billion thrive with dignity and equity. Since its inception in 1999, Dasra has accelerated social change by driving collaborative action through powerful partnerships among a trust-based network of stakeholders (corporates, foundations, families, non-profits, social businesses, government and media). Over the years, Dasra has engaged with 500 philanthropists, corporates and foundations, published 22 research reports in diverse fields and directed over US$34 Million in strategic funding to the sector.