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The challenges of living in abject poverty are as predictable as they are depressing. Despite this fact, a girl living in the slums of India faces additional challenges once they hit puberty and start menstruating.
The limitations range from lack of sanitary napkins, menstrual health issues, inadequate menstrual hygiene practises – due to unsanitary conditions and lack of water and toilets- stigma, culture shame, inconsistent learning and sometimes dropping out of school due to low self-esteem and discrimination
Research shows that the plight of a girl child in some parts of India is somewhat determined earlier on – given that the birth of a daughter is frowned upon, to begin with.
As many put it, bringing up a girl is like watering a ‘neighbour’s plant’ which is why most girls are neglected, denied quality health care, education or growth opportunities compared to boys.
“Mothers who bear daughters are beaten or cast aside by husbands or in-laws, desperate to evade the financial burden of a girls dowry,” says The Guardian. Ultimately, the girl child becomes an emblem of economic burden and as such challenges encountered even later in life, are attributed to their gender.
By this fact, IDF has taken the front seat in addressing the following human rights which are equally implicated by menstruation.
Promoting human dignity is at the core of human rights. Thus when a teenage girl is bullied, neglected, discriminated, excluded from public life or shamed due to a natural phenomenon, her dignity is significantly undermined.
In light of this, through campaigns, workshops and on the ground projects that promote menstrual health management, hygiene practises and wellness, IDF has mentored 50 adolescent girls living in slums, so they can spread menstrual health awareness and change attitudes towards menstruation.
Smiley girls club, created by IDF, which is a forum for circulating menstrual hygiene practises and experiences is also instrumental in empowering girls changing how they view their body, menstruation and sexual reproductive rights.
Extreme poverty also poses a barrier in managing menstrual health and hygiene – which then undermines human dignity. Due to this, IDF has taken the initiative to provide girls and women with free sanitary towels (over 4,50,000 pads distributed) and train them in the manufacturing of pads. So far 100 girls have been trained to manufacture sanitary napkins through a micro-enterprise Introduced by IDF.
Punit, the founder of IDF, says, “Workshops have encouraged women to stop using pieces of cloth for menstrual management. Instead, they have embraced sanitary pads which are better for menstrual health and hygiene.”
Education may not be the only key to success, but it is undoubtedly a key to empowerment, a great sense of individuality, self-assurance and a chance to escape poverty – for a teenager living in the slums.
By enrolling girls from underprivileged families to formal school and supporting their educational endeavours, IDF seeks to reduce the rate of dropouts and create access to opportunities, since girls living in slums are indeed most disadvantaged.
Through the Honhar Ladki, which is an education and mentorship programme, IDF champions girls who exhibit the will to change their lives and society at large through education and empowerment activities.
High absenteeism and low-performance rates are cause for concern, especially when girls are on their periods. Absenteeism is highly fueled by the lack of medication to manage menstrual cramps, fear of being shamed, lack of sanitary towels, infrastructure or even ability to manage menstrual hygiene at school; as a result school performance suffers.
Thus, IDF hosts awareness session where mothers are educated on menstruation, the importance of menstrual health, nutrition and hygiene. The Honhar Ladki programme also facilitates periodic parent-teacher meetings so parents can understand their daughters’ achievements. Herein, child attendance and performance is analysed, and parents are encouraged to allow their daughters to go to school. This approach is aimed at reducing absenteeism and overall drop out rates of teenage girls.
Lack of accurate information, awareness and access to relevant facilities are reasons why many girls and women shy away from seeking treatment for menstrual-related pain or disorders. This affects their right to health, risks their well being and leaves them at the mercies of infections and other menstrual health-related consequences.
After noting the challenges that hinder menstrual health awareness, IDF established a women resource centre, a facility that focuses on menstrual health and issues such as sexually reproductive human rights, gender-based violence, early child and forced marriages.
A women-connect toll-free helpline is also availed where women can call to access quick advise and tips on menstrual health management.
Punit highlights that since the toll-free was introduced, from the total number of women who have used the service, 45% call to consult on menstrual health management, 50% on sexually reproductive rights issues and 5% on gender-based violence.
Such figures show that more women are prioritising their menstrual health over the stigma associated with menstruation.
Gender stereotypes, taboos, norms and regressive cultures play a significant role in reinforcing discriminatory practices. As such, it is only wise to recognise that the ability for girls to practise good menstrual hygiene cuts right into the heart of gender equality.
For this reason, IDF is championing gender equality by encouraging more girls to enrol in school, discouraging early marriages, and promoting the participation of girls and women in the public sphere.
By addressing menstrual-related taboos through awareness programmes and campaigns, IDF hopes to change the negative attitudes towards girls, reduce the rates of gender discrimination of girls/women in underprivileged communities and break menstrual-related barriers, that perpetuate gender inequalities across the spectrum.
Every girl is entitled to human rights from the mere fact that they are human. Human rights are indivisible, inalienable and importantly universal.
While people are right holders, the state holds a responsibility to respect, fulfil and protect human rights.
However, such ideals are highly unattainable if the responsibility is solely left on the government alone. Since indeed girls living in disadvantaged sections of communities face most obstacles when it comes to thoroughly enjoying their human rights, IDF as a developmental actor is at the forefront in facilitating gender equality by promoting education, menstrual health and sexual reproductive rights.
“Ending period poverty is a key to ensuring that teenage girls living in the slums of India can enjoy human rights as other privileged people in society. Therefore we ask you to join us today in championing this global phenomenon as menstrual health is not a women’s issue.” Punit Asthana.
A self-proclaimed humorist who gets easily intrigued by creativity, art and nature. I have a passion for social change and I am happiest when writing, communicating and supporting a cause that affects people’s lives positively.