Last week’s Muzaffarnagar incident, where the warden of a residential school strip-searched 70 girl students to check if they were menstruating, has brought the focus back on how menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is almost absent from the sanitation discourse in India.
The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) had issued guidelines to states in 2015 on MHM, as part of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) but its implementation has been either patchy or nil. In urban areas, the issue does not find any mention in the SBM guidelines framed by the Union urban development (UD) ministry.
Issued in the form of advisory, the guidelines by the drinking water ministry that is piloting the government’s ambitious sanitation program to make India clean and open defecation free in rural areas by 2019 mandate that public toilets should be designed to ensure safe and private entrance to women’s toilets, with proper lighting after evening hours.
Besides, toilet cubicles should be provided with a shelf, hooks or niche to keep clothing and menstrual absorbents dry. The advisory also says that disposal bins with lids should be placed within the toilet and incinerators should be built to avoid transport on menstrual waste.
The advisory was reissued to states again on April 3. “These are just advisory and are not binding on the state. If states do not implement it, we can’t do much,” said a government official.
Mamata Das, Manager-Campaigns, WaterAid India, a voluntary organization says there is a need to look at SBM more comprehensively and beyond infrastructure.
“Menstrual hygiene management has to be an integral part of the sanitation policy & program as it directly impacts the well- being & dignity of girls and women with particular impact on health of girls and women as well as girl's education. The only discussion around women in SBM is how toilet is needed for their safety,” Dash said.
Several studies have shown how the drop-out rates of girls from schools spikes when she starts menstruating. The main reason being lack of proper facilities and privacy in school toilets.
“We would like the policy makers to be sensitive and responsible to the issues around MHM and put in place appropriate mechanism to address the same as part of sanitation program under SBM and not setting it aside as a health issue," Dash added.