The Menstruation Hygiene & Management (MHM) Summit, organised by Gramalaya, was held at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi between September 26-27. The first of its kind conference touted as the world's first Summit on menstrual hygiene, focused on an integrated approach to remove social stigma in society. MHM 2019 reportedly advocated for creating awareness about eco-friendly alternatives for menstrual hygiene products and sanitation facilities across the country. The event witnessed 46 guest speakers from various positions of authority, who addressed common challenges women face in the country.
Essentially meant to be a platform to ideate and share knowledge, over 200 delegates from across the country attended the two-day conference, several of them experts in the fields of sanitation and MHM education in India. Panel discussions were held to exchange ideas about successfully demonstrated models and the use of eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products, which were piloted and tested among adolescent girls in schools and colleges.
The two-day Summit also facilitated deserving candidates for their exemplary work in creating a cleaner, safer environment for children and by extension, the society as well. Another focus of the summit was to use technology and its interventions for the treatment of menstrual waste in a way that is least harmful to society. The speakers from Summit reportedly advocated for the ban of single-use sanitary napkins, which are harmful to women’s health and environment. The event’s spokesperson explained that without a ban on single-use sanitary napkins, prevention of menstrual waste will be much more challenging as additional resources will need to be deployed to dispose those napkins and manage water resources.
The Summit strongly recommended MHM volunteers, Government and other stakeholders to encourage and support eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products. A panel discussion conducted on this evaluated the importance of MHM education and promoting new menstrual waste management systems which should be included in the school curriculum.
The spokesperson commenting on this issue, opined, ‘Women and adolescent girls should be given MHM education in the rural and urban areas. All schools should have women-friendly housing necessary infrastructure and that should be made the norm, as it will ideally reduce school drop-outs and encourage girls to complete their education, without being absent during menstruation days'.
Menstrual stigma poses significant challenges to reproductive health, social ostracization and in some cases even negative economic implications, all because of the idea that it is something shameful. In India, it remains a common view that despite the existence of reproductive and adolescent health awareness programs, an abundance of awareness programmes, shame and criticism of those organisations and participating individuals continues to run rampant.
A report released by DASRA, a Mumbai-based philanthropy foundation in conjunction with The Bank of America, has highlighted another key aspect when it comes to sanitation and menstrual hygiene. According to the report, in India, around 34% of girls or roughly 23 million young girls drop out of school every year due to their inability to manage their periods at school.
Gramalaya is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with a national-level presence. Founded in 1987, the organisation has been primarily involved in water management and public sanitation. It spearheaded the movement first in the Southern States of India, where they have promoted the construction of over 6,00,000 individual household toilets, with the help of UNICEF in Chennai and other state-level government agencies.
Gramalaya has also actively campaigned for the use of eco-friendly sanitary pads in schools and villages where they've worked on projects such as AWASH (Associations for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) and MHM. Frequently collaborating with City Corporations, local communities and international agencies such as Water Aid UK, Gramalaya is credited with turning 56 panchayats open-defecation free with assistance from local district officials under the Total Sanitation Campaign scheme in rural areas.