WSSCC India webinar discuss menstrual health and hygiene

Female-friendly toilets, sensitization toward boys and men, health services and menstrual waste were among the topics experts and activists raised on Menstrual Hygiene Day during a webinar co-organized by WSSCC’s India Support Unit.
Raza Naqvi

“WSSCC India has always advocated the importance of menstrual health and hygiene,” explained Mr Vinod Mishra, National Coordinator of WSSCC India, who went on to highlight WSSCC’s intention for the webinar and future plans on MHH.

“[WSSCC] will continue to improve key areas in MHH and will collaborate with organizations like the Global Interfaith Wash Alliance (GIWA) to create awareness around menstruation.”

Mr Yugal Joshi, Director Information, Education and Communication, Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G), echoed this commitment, outlining that the government’s focus for menstrual hygiene is on capacity building and bringing about positive behavior change.

“Since the launch of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) in 2014, menstrual hygiene has been one of our focus areas. To enable the adolescent girls to adopt safe hygiene practices, the government ensures that there is at least one toilet for girls in schools of rural area,” he said.

“Government will push campaigns on menstrual hygiene and it will be a key element in health campaigns. Women volunteers (Swachhagrahis) will be trained to roll out campaigns on menstrual hygiene, especially in rural areas of the country.”

During the webinar, particular emphasis was placed on the outstanding need for female-friendly toilets.

“For proper menstrual hygiene management, there should be a focus on building female-friendly toilets,” stated Dr Pratibha Singh from UNICEF India, highlighting the importance of clear signs instructing girls to dispose of menstrual waste in a bin, easy access to water, as well as a shelf and hook for hygienically storing belongings during usage. He also suggested budget-friendly ways of building such toilets, citing examples from Tanzania.

Committing to the inclusion of MHH in school settings, Mr Jata Shankar Chaudhary, the Director of Secondary Education in Jharkhand, outlined the State’s ongoing work on an MHH module, which will be used in schools to build knowledge and awareness around menstruation among young girls.

He also informed the participants on a campaign named ‘Men for Menstruation’ that has also been rolled out, to build awareness and tackle stigma around menstruation, among men and boys.

While highlighting the importance of engaging stakeholders, Ms Satviki Verma from the Aga Khan Foundation (AFK) explained that the AKF plans to engage stakeholders through training and capacity building at all levels to strengthen knowledge and practice.

“We will also focus on targeted awareness sessions amongst young girls and self-help groups, for maximum impact,” added Ms Verma.

The importance of engaging faith leaders to end taboos around menstruation was also discussed. Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswati from Global Interfaith Wash Alliance (GIWA) called upon faith leaders from different communities to come together and work to create awareness around menstruation.

“When faith leaders will create awareness around menstruation, it will no longer remain a taboo topic in India and will also help in achieving gender equality,” she said.

Highlighting the plight of women during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Sunil Jacob from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that due to COVID-19, the supply of menstrual hygiene product has been affected. Mr Jacob said that UNFPA is advocating for continuity of menstrual health services in states where they have a presence.

After India went into lockdown in late March, Gramalaya, an organization working in the WASH sector, has been focusing on providing menstrual products to women in and around the State of Tamil Nadu. Participating in the webinar, Ms Geetha Jegan from Gramalaya said, “We are providing sustainable menstrual products to women as supply has been badly hit during the pandemic.”

Finally, menstrual waste was also raised during the discussions. Ms Arundhati Muralidharan from Menstrual Health Alliance India (MHAI), highlighted the need for increased awareness-raising for women both on the volume of menstrual waste generated every year and options for environmentally-friendly menstrual products.

“A lot of waste is generated in India every year, 12 billion pads to be precise. We need to adopt safe disposal practices and treatment of menstrual waste. Also, look at other menstrual products like reusable pads to address this issue,” said Ms Muralidharan.

Speaking about the Government of India’s plans on menstrual waste, Dr Shyni DS from the Ministry of Jal Shakti (water resources) revealed that special funds would be allocated in 2020 for addressing the problem. She also stated that in 7,000 blocks of the country, plastic waste management units would be set up with a focus on menstrual waste management.

“In phase two of SBM-G, IEC funds will be allocated for menstrual health and hygiene, as well the menstrual waste management. This initiative will help us in addressing the problem of menstrual waste,” concluded Dr Shyni.