Thought provoking and possible game changing discussions on access, use, disposal and treatment of menstrual hygiene products in India were presented at the one day consultation: Pushing the Boundaries on the MHM Dialogue held here today.
Organized by, Dasra in partnership with WaterAid India, RTI International, PATH, Zariya, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and Development Solutions, the consultation focused on discussing sustainable and scalable solutions for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) value chain, from normalizing menstruation to the product landscape and waste management.
“It’s not easy to push boundaries on what’s needed for menstrual hygiene management, this MHM dialogue is a unique opportunity to foster collaborative action among Government, Corporates and Civil Society for what needs to be addressed as a public health issue,” said Neera Nundy, Co-founder, Dasra.
“Padman helped me understand menstrual hygiene a lot better than what I already knew. Things that I discovered while meeting people for the movie absolutely stunned me. There are lot of superstitions around menstruation and men can play a huge role in MHM. There needs to be a sense of authority, sometimes man’s authority can be used positively. Bollywood has started to address social issues. It is a challenge as educated people like to be entertained and not to be preached. However, it is essential to deliver the message in an entertaining way,” said R. Balki, Indian filmmaker and screenwriter.
“Menstrual hygiene management is an important area of work for WaterAid in India and globally. Our approach is comprehensive, going beyond water, sanitation and hygiene services for MHM, to also focus on addressing taboos and creating an enabling environment to foster suitable change. Within MHM, an issue we are increasingly concerning ourselves with is providing information and access to a basket of choices and the management of menstrual waste. We believe that the disposal and treatment of menstrual waste have implications for the health of girls and women, as well as for the environment,” said VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India.
PATH’s India country director, Neeraj Jain, while lauding the efforts of the Government for being among the clutch of countries spearheading this critical work, emphasized that PATH’s goal was to help reduce barriers to women and girls’ health and development by increasing awareness, access and use of affordable, acceptable menstrual hygiene products at scale. PATH, a global leader in innovations envisions achieving this by working multisectorally with Industry, governments, standards division, partners and innovators, including the voice of girls and women, to bridge gaps between the supply and demand to ensure availability of quality products. Globally PATH has focused its efforts in menstrual health efforts on working with partners to optimize products, develop markets, advocate, and implement and evaluate programs and envisions bringing technical expertise towards developing robust, feasible disposable options which are available to all.
“The need of the hour is to break the silence around menstruation. We need to understand the special disadvantages that women face while menstruating and account for it across the sanitation value chain. The issue needs a holistic approach and all areas are equally critical, be it ensuring access to products, infrastructure and safe disposal. True success will be to establish menstruation as a normal life process and get rid of all social taboos and myths which make it difficult for women to deal with such a large portion of their life,” said Madhu Krishna, Country Lead – Sanitation, India Country Office, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Zariya’s co-founder, Tanya Mahajan, highlighted the need to look at MHM programming from a holistic perspective. This included understanding the linkages between awareness, access, use and waste management for policy and program development. “Putting a sanitary napkin in the hands of a rural adolescent girl, while a big win, is not sufficient. She and her family and community need to be made aware of the social norms surrounding menstruation, health impact of overuse of products and appropriate disposal of the product. Products have also become synonymous with non-biodegradable disposable pads which is putting a monumental load on our ecology and waste management systems. Zariya is leveraging its work on the intersection of sanitation and MHM in Rajasthan to inform and add to collective advocating for a change in how MHM is viewed.
RTI International is involved in MHM issues through its multi-sectoral health, education and environmental work around the world. Information and conversations are paramount to help increase knowledge, build respect, and reduce negative perceptions. In India, RTI is engaged in innovative water and sanitation solutions that integrate MH waste management along with the management of other human waste streams. Myles Elledge (Senior Director, RTI) noted that “it is vital for us to recognize, talk about, and address the challenge to integrate MHM into sanitation work. Our mothers, daughters, sisters and all women deserve privacy, access and dignity”.
The MHM Lab set up by WSSCC facilitated a demonstration on creating safe spaces to understand what menstruation is, discuss how to manage periods hygienically and learn about safe disposal. The Product Landscape Gallery displayed various types of products with basic information on products and commercial availability. “MHM is not just an infrastructure issue. Why is it that even highly educated women are ashamed and embarrassed when they stain their clothes while menstruating even though we know that it is a natural process? To improve the lives of women and girls we need to address the stigma associated with periods and this means taking inequitable gender norms head on,’’ said Kamini Prakash, Technical Officer – Equality and Non-Discrimination, WSSCC.
“For many, there are issues of access to hygienic menstrual products and this has an impact on their lives and this often has an intergenerational impact. The disposal of products have costs too. Through our research and interventions, we would like to focus on bringing significant improvements in the value chain of MHM to enable a change,” said Vasudha Chakravarty of Development Solutions.