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At a press conference on 28 September in Delhi, India, WSSCC's Archana Patkar, Programme Manager for Networking and Knowledge Management, joined high-ranking public officials, Bollywood celebrities, sports stars and sanitation and hygiene professionals at a press conference to launch the Nirmal Bharat Yatra (NBY). Her speech is below.
I represent the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, which is located within the United Nations Office for Project services in Geneva. We work on the knowledge, advocacy and delivery challenges in the sanitation and hygiene sector with a focus on sanitation needy countries in Asia and Africa.
Today, I am proud to be here representing WSSCC and WSSCC’s team for the Yatra. We are excited to partner with the visionary team of Wash United and Quicksand who conceived and developed the Nirmal Bharat Yatra. WSSCC remains deeply committed to continue supporting the Government of India’s aims and objectives for total sanitation under the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan and is proud to support this mandate through the Yatra.
The Yatra seeks to celebrate while educating and raising awareness about three key facets of sanitation and hygiene across the Indian heartland promoting hand-washing with soap at critical times, making toilets more relevant and desirable, and tackling the persisting taboo around menstruation for women and girls and its management (MHM). WSSCC believes that sanitation and hygiene are universal human rights and works to achieve these with special attention to marginalised groups, recognizing that discrimination and stigma are both inherent within the social fabric of our societies and that these are reproduced several times over within the sanitation and hygiene sector.
WSSCC supports all three Yatra themes fully as we see these as the three interlocking pillars of the basic sanitation and hygiene challenge. We will focus our efforts in the Yatra on raising awareness and changing behaviours around menstrual hygiene management at home, school, play and work for women and girls in these five states and nationally.
Why are we focusing on this issue - menstrual hygiene management? Whether it is Assam, Bihar or UP, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka..When we create the space to talk about Mahawari, Mahina, MC, Masik Pali/Pali, Rutu sravam, Muttu, Period or MC - the trauma, frustrations, pain and anxiety of women and girls across the country come pouring out. They represent the thoughts of 355 million menstruating women and girls in this country two-thirds of whom have no access to safe materials, spaces for management and disposal. These are also usually the same women and girls who are not allowed to talk about the problem.
Why is this important? Because women and girls menstruate on an average 3000 days over their lifetime. Managing menstrual blood and linked waste material is an inherent part of their sanitation and hygiene routine. But – they are asked to be silent about this, hide it, be ashamed of it and somehow manage it without anyone knowing. So they try – never daring to mention the M word – which is easy as no one asks; using sand, paper, wood bark and fibre, grass, ash, old cloth, pads where available pretending all the time that this is just a normal day - with no pain, anxiety or practical challenges. They retreat from school, play, work into dark spaces so that they will not ‘pollute’ others. And they must try and remove all traces of having had their period- by creatively hiding or destroying the evidence – used cloth, pads, etc under roof tiles, in holes in the ground or in a bin when no one is looking. The trauma, infections, restricted mobility and shame caused has significant implications – leading to girls staying away from school, low educational achievement and drop out, poor health and productivity and most importantly low self image for life.
So our lab aims to start breaking the taboos - after all menstruation is an essential biological phenomenon responsible for reproducing the human race itself! Let’s be proud to be a woman or a man with the differences that make us who we are.! But pride and dignity is also linked to practical realities such as - affordable available materials, spaces for washing, drying and disposal. Our tent invites women and girls during the day to engage in activities that share, educate, listen and teach women and girls to manage this with dignity – ensuring that sanitation is meaningfully translated for women and girls reflecting their special needs. Hand in hand with the WASH United’s WASH in Schools work and Hand Washing Lab and games and WaterAid's Toilet Lab we aim to promote sanitation and hygiene behaviour change that meet the needs of both women and men, girls and boys nationwide.
I believe that to achieve sanitation and hygiene behaviour change for India’s millions we will need to change hearts and minds. I believe that the Nirmal Bharat Yatra brings together important elements and icons to trigger these changes in behaviour at scale and we are proud to participate in this transformation.