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On any given day, up to 350 million women and girls in India menstruate, yet across the country menstrual blood is considered impure. Girls and women are expected to hide all signs of menstruation, shrouding this natural, life-affirming phenomenon in secrecy, superstition and stigma. And few people talk about menstruation until menarche actually occurs. The result of this wall of silence is fear, shame, absence from school and work leading to a vicious cycle of poor hygiene practices based on inadequate information – all of which are exacerbated by poverty and inappropriate facilities for changing, washing, drying and disposal.
Menstruation is integral to female identity, health and vitality and therefore managing their menstruation with safety and dignity is essential for realizing the right to water and sanitation for women and girls. As such, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) must be a feature of any large government scheme seeking to change behavior.
WSSCC works hard to break the silence around menstruation, increase demand and practice of menstrual hygiene management and safe disposal, promote hand washing at critical times and stop open defecation to achieve a clean and environmentally safe India.
We are therefore excited to announce that the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation of the Government of India has approved a proposal from WSSCC to change the guidelines in the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan to recognize the importance of menstrual hygiene management (link). The new guidelines will help to bolster budgets and plans for raising awareness of safe and adequate menstrual hygiene and disposal of used menstrual materials safely.
In India, this work started with the WSSCC Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene in 2011, where MHM featured strongly, and was further accelerated under the Nirmal Bharat Yatra in five Northern States in 2012, where WSSCC conceptualized and delivered a 'menstrual hygiene lab' for over 12,000 women and girls and hundreds of students and teachers in 28 schools at the Yatra, which was organized by WASH United and the Government of India.
The Minister, senior bureaucrats at national, state and district level, NGOs and private sector partners were invited to participate in the MHM lab and linked advocacy events to check demand. The demand was overwhelming – confirming the need for safe spaces, materials and counselling on MHM to break the silence so that women and girls can make safe and informed choices as to how they manage their menstruation with dignity.
While working on the policy change, WSSCC refined and produced the materials tested in the Yatra, for use in wider advocacy and training in Hindi and English. Sixty-five trainers from nine Hindi speaking states have been trained in MHM by WSSCC in partnership with the Indian government. Training programmes in South, East and West India will be rolled out in partnership with state governments in 2014 and beyond.
The change in the NBA guidelines was announced in December at a workshop on gender, water and sanitation jointly organized by WSSCC, WSP and SHARE in New Delhi.
Details of the new NBA guidelines can be found at: