Neha Basnet, Research and Outreach Officer, GUTHI
My Participation in the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) training of Trainers (TOT) has been a great source of learning to me getting familiar with the terms and techniques of menstrual management as well as applying them to my day to day work in the community.
It was a great platform for me to share the status as well as ideas among the participants from various countries and departments regarding the social stigmas on menstruation and the ongoing activities and policies to mainstream MHM in the WASH sector. The contents of the training materials were enriched in concretizing the ideas about gender, its role in WASH and inclusive participation for the menstrual hygiene management. I personally found the tools and the MHM lab as convenient way to deliver the message to the community regarding the safe menstrual hygiene management and safe disposal of menstrual waste. The experience of the participants and the challenges they face while sensitizing the community and the concerned sector to prioritize the issue was also another source of learning to me. My overall learning and experience from MHM TOT has been summarized below as:
- Gender and WASH
It is crucial to understand the gender role in the society where women are one who spent most of their time in sanitary related activities linked with the water availability. Despite of spending hours in collecting water for sanitary activities they are the one who becomes victim of poor sanitation. Women throughout her life cycle has to pass through many stages of vulnerability i.e., menarche, pregnancy, menopause, old age where her body requires special sanitation attention. The sanitation facilities available in our public sphere lack consideration for such things as they are deprived of gender friendly structures, water and sanitary materials. Time and again women and girl becomes victim of various infections, molestation and poor health. Mainstreaming gender role in the development planning and infrastructure design is very crucial to ensure that everyone has access to sanitation.
While going through this session of gender role in WASH, I could relate the contents with the everyday routine of a normal women and it was traumatizing to imagine that, she had to suffer during her days of special requirement just because it is not designed for her. How can a healthy male at his youthful days plan for the sanitation requirement of everyone? If a normal girl has to suffer then what about the one with the disabilities?
- MHM approach
Menstruation is the topic of shame and is usually slammed behind locked up opinion considering the sole business of women. The silence around the stigmas related with the menstruation makes women and girl suffer just for undergoing the natural process. Similarly, the culturally guided taboos related with the menstruation banish them from getting good food, touching water, hygienic environment and proper rest which are also equivalent to the banishment from enjoying their human rights. Lack of awareness among the male members regarding the physiological and psychological changes during the menstruation also isolates women to suffer during these times. The approach to ensure safe menstruation going through three pronged approach i.e. breaking the silence, safe menstrual hygiene management and reuse and safe disposal of sanitary pad is possible when everyone are sensitized and involved in this process.
Considering my experience while going through the sessions, I myself was unaware about the physiological changes going through my body and my male friend helped me to understand this. However, embracing the cultural taboos I could not open up with my issues and menstruation was a suffering to me. Every menstruating day was a challenge for me to act normal while people around me were treating me like abnormal one. Again there were dos and don’ts so; menstruation was not hygienic process for me in terms of managing it and the waste. Sensitizing people regarding the three-prong approach through various tools is the only way to save half of the humanity from further sufferings.
- Use of Appropriate Tools and Techniques
During the session of using tool like KAAVAD flip book, menstrual wheel, documentary, audio-visual means was beneficial. Similarly, use of digital tool was something revolutionary to sensitize large mass for bringing out change. The concept of MHM lab for both male as well as female participant was another brilliant idea to listen about their queries and help them hence sensitizing them in a community where social practices prohibits open discussion of such topic.
There are many places in our country where the deep rooted evil practices have been prevalent since long ago. And time and again many girls have lost their lives because of these practices. Use of these tools could bring change in the thinking process and practices of people. Digital tools could also serve as a platform to lobby for change for better society.
- Disposal of Menstrual Waste:
The challenges related to the safe menstruation are not only about the availability of water and sanitary pads rather it is also about the disposal. Majority of the population still use sanitary cloths during their period that they wash and reuse again, but then again there are also population who use sanitary pad and have no option for disposal rather than throwing them or burn it. Both of these measures are harmful for the environment furthermore sanitary pads cannot be used for composting. So, in this scenario, scientific way of disposing menstrual waste is challenge.
For many women and informal waste workers in the urban areas, disposal part is issue. Awareness among them regarding the segregation of such waste from other household waste is important. There could be other options like autoclaving, incinerating it under fixed temperature or using biodegradable pads. These options have to be discussed among the women and girls so that other that can practice it or may come up with another innovative idea.
- Leaving No one Behind:
Safe menstrual hygiene management cannot be achieved if it is not in tandem with the principle of sustainable development goal i.e. people, planet and participation for the prosperity. If any one of the human being is left out in terms of enjoying their right to dignified life then the universal coverage could not be achieved. There are people, who are poor, marginalized, disabled, low caste, transgender, old age and don’t work in dignified profession and these people are also left out form the planning and decision making procedure so, their issues of sanitation always remains unheard.
Leaving anyone from their participation in activities planned for them would contribute nothing for improving their sanitation status so, before taking any activities for such people it is necessary to have their participation. Participation of people would also help to find out the psychosocial stress that might be indirectly affecting their sanitation and health so as to collectively plan and work on that.
There were sessions where, participants had to demonstrate how to communicate effectively with the community during which they came up with various innovative ways so that information could be provided. Similarly there was also discussion on various ways to communicate the information for the person with different needs. The videos on menstrual issues across the different nations were useful in providing information regarding the stigma of menstruation. I also learnt the relation between ministries, partners and channels for mobilizing resources and sensitizing communities. In overall, I have come to a realization that menstrual issues have been prevalent in our society since time long and safe menstruation is nothing about the innovation and rocket science rather it’s about bringing different members of the society together and participating them in sensitization process.