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A Periodic Change

by Udita Chatterjee

Menstruation or periods or menses, as we know, have mostly been treated as a non-discussable subject or as Taboo in most forms of culture, and especially in rural areas around the world. With schools, health centres, Anganwadi Centres (1) remaining closed during the lockdown, there was little the women and girls in the villages could do, but to turn to unhealthy practices of using cloth during periods. This is so due to the fact that in India, girls depend on health centres and schools for food and sanitary napkins as has been witnessed by me in my frequent field visits, et al…

Although there have been programmes undertaken by the Government of India, catering to reproductive health services to women and girls in the rural areas, the practice of using not-so-clean clothes, in particular, seldom ceases to exist. Especially, during emergency, and that too at a time of Global Health Emergency; these practices increase manifold. Forced to use often unhygienic pieces of clothes during menses is an age-old practice among girls handed down through generations, and the same can trigger health complications, leading to leaking and infections.

Moreover, girls naturally tend to feel ashamed to talk about their menstrual problems, and being literally bound to their homes during Lockdown, it must have been difficult for them to manage this particular period of time. Reports (2) were out during the complete Lockdown phase about children not receiving the regular immunisation shots due to the closure of health centres, and its implications of losing out on vital vaccinations. However, I did not come across similar reports on effects of this type of closure, e.g. block level, Adolescent friendly health clinics, schools on girls’ lives, much. Married and unmarried adolescent girls, young, as well as older, with complications as regards to their reproductive health, must have had to visit quacks seeking help, thus, affecting their health adversely.

There are many Civil Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working towards ensuring better health and well-being of women and adolescent girls. Menstrual Hygiene Management Trainings were being conducted by organisations, like Child In Need Institute (CINI), during the pre-Pandemic era. Now, during this new normal post-Lockdown phase, with new strains of COVID-19 virus emerging with every intention to stay with humans for the coming decade; life must go on and with that, new customised intervention strategies must go on, as well. Some interventions, it is believed, could align with the government services extended during the pandemic to the deprived sections of the population and in the remote locations of the country. One, ensuring supplies of sanitary pads or towels along with the ration to the most marginalised, e.g. girls with disabilities, those living in the tribal areas. Second, basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are made available for girls in and around their respective localities. These can be accomplished with help of local NGOs, the COVID Warriors (the Frontline Workers, like ASHA, AWWs), e.g. in distribution of the sanitary towels, among other necessary day-to-day requirements.

Again, local girls, rather women folk in entirety, can be encouraged to become champions or change agents for spreading the word around amongst their friends for using sanitary napkins and its imminent health benefits. In under-resourced areas, the girls can be trained on hygienic methods of using cloth (washing, drying and disposing). Local Women’s Groups or Self-Help Groups, manufacturing face masks, can well be approached for making cotton sanitary pads. Local-self-government (the Panchayats, Block and District) officials need to be involved in the process to help build ownership in the community towards this intervention.

From the above points, it becomes somewhat clear to ensure concerted efforts on menstrual hygiene that are needed with NGOs working hand in hand with the Local Administration. Without the State support, it would be difficult for the NGOs to carry out the relief work for all segments of the population during this pandemic, and other emergency situations. It is sincerely hoped that the new regulations (FCRA Amendment, September 2020) passed by the Government of India would not hinder the prolonged efforts of NGOs towards the well-being of the Civil Society.

The Government of India amended the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 or FCRA, 2010 in September 2020, in order to increase transparency by introducing the requirement to provide Aadhaar Card, empowering itself to conduct an inquiry into the affairs of the person/organisation registered under the FCRA and introducing a requirement of mandatory FCRA Account. As the Government is using FCRA to crack down on NGOs, the Grassroots organisations have claimed that their projects have been severely hampered, and many have lost their jobs due to the new FCRA amendments. Experts have opined that organisations, receiving foreign funds, will no longer be able to transfer them to small NGOs, working at the Grassroots level. Prominent organisations have claimed that the amendment would initially impact the livelihoods of workers associated with the small NGOs, and ultimately lead to the killing of the entire sector as caps on administrative expenses would make it impossible even for the bigger NGOs to perform. This will only trigger further impoverishment of the vulnerable population of the country.

1) Anganwadi is a type of Rural Child Care Centre in India. They were started by the Indian Government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services programme to combat child hunger and malnutrition. Anganwadi means “courtyard shelter” in Hindi.
2) UNICEF and WHO has warned that globally at least 80 million children under one are at risk of diseases, such as diphtheria, measles and polio, as Covid-19 disrupts routine immunisation and this includes India as one of the nations to be affected.

Boundless Ocean of Politics has received this article from Ms Udita Chatterjee.

Udita Chatterjee

Udita (born on March 22, 1981) previously worked as a Programme Manager (Research) with Landesa, a global land rights organisation. Now, she is an Independent Consultant, working for various non-profit organisations. She has more than 12 years of experience in the non-profit sector, working mainly in knowledge management, documentation, facilitation, monitoring and evaluation.

Udita graduated from Presidency College, Kolkata, majoring in Sociology and did her Masters in Sociology from Presidency College (now Presidency University), Kolkata, India. Later on, she pursued Masters in Population Studies (MPS) from the Department of Extra Mural Studies & Distance Education, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, India.

Udita has a thirst for knowledge, as she enjoys reading. She is also into artworks, doing illustrations and colouring. She likes to surf the Internet, watch movies and loves to travel to various places, learning about the place and its culture and ethos.

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