#HappyToBleed – breaking menstrual taboos in India

By Lucy Ferrier, Marketing & Communications Manager at Jeevika Trust

Towards the end of 2015, a comment made by the head of the famous Sabarimala temple in Kerala  - which has a blanket entry ban for women aged between 10 and 50 – sparked a heavy backlash from hundreds of young Indian women. Discussing whether the ban (which is in place to ensure that no menstruating women enter the temple) would ever be lifted, Prayar Gopalakrishnan said: “There will be a day when a machine is invented to scan if it is the ‘right time’ for a woman to enter the temple. When that machine is invented, we will talk about letting women inside”. A teenage girl from Odisha

Menstruation remains a taboo in India, but a new generation of young women refuses to accept these entrenched views; in response to Gopalakrishnan’s comment, hundreds of women took to social media after the launch of the #HappyToBleed campaign. On its Facebook page, the movement describes itself as a “counter campaign launched against menstrual taboos, and sexism that women are subject to through it. It acknowledges menstruation as a natural activity which doesn’t need curtains to hide behind”. #HappyToBleed’s founder, Nikita Azad said: “Shaming menstruation is a sign of patriarchy.”

Though #HappyToBleed was launched in response to the Sabarimala temple’s ban on menstruating women, it is a reaction to a much wider issue. Traditionally, menstruating women are considered “unclean” and are often banned from praying or cooking ; in some rural communities, women are sent to gaokors – huts outside the village – while they are menstruating. A reproductive health & hygiene sessionThis historic and deeply-ingrained taboo has an enormous impact on women – over 20% of girls drop out of school permanently at puberty and Reproductive Tract Infections (RTIs) are rife, particularly in rural areas, due to the lack of availability of proper sanitary products. There is even an indication that unsanitary practices during menstruation, for example re-using cloth and using ashes or sand to aid absorption, increases the risk of cervical cancer – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) India accounts for 27% of the world’s cervical cancer deaths and the incidence rate there is almost twice the global average “with poor menstrual hygiene partly to blame”.

A nationwide survey of women indicated that 70% can’t afford sanitary napkins, with only 2% of the rural population using them despite the fact that three quarters of Indians still live in rural areas. Jeevika Trust is proud to support the improvement of menstrual health of women and adolescent girls from tribal communities in Odisha; through our Project SNAPS, delivered by our partner organisation Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), we support Self-Help Groups of women to produce and market low-cost, eco-disposable sanitary napkins (SNAPS) which not only addresses their personal sanitary needs, but allows them to generate a small income from their activities. A SHG member producing SNAPSThese napkins are also made available to adolescent girls to help keep them in school, and women and girls receive reproductive health education. Overall, the project is helping over 5,000 women and girls. Unfortunately, lack of access to sanitary napkins is only half the problem – poor access to proper sanitation facilities and gender-segregated toilets is also a huge issue, but we’re tackling this through our Project PANI.

Through better education on reproductive health and hygiene, we hope to help break the taboos surrounding menstruation, and through providing women with SNAPS (sanitary napkins)  and improving access to toilet facilities we hope to improve levels of health, reduce RTIs and allow girls to remain in education. As Muruganantham, the man who famously pioneered machinery to produce low-cost sanitary napkins in Tamil Nadu and who this week received the prestigious Padma Shri award for his work, said, “Why buy sanitary napkins from multinationals when we can make them at home and generate employment?”.

To support the expansion of Project SNAPS, please click on the link below to donate:

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WATER & SANITATION – some hard facts

by Judith Crosland, Programmes Manager at Jeevika Trust

INDIA has a population of over one billion people and is home to 17% of the world’s population. The divide between rich and poor is huge:  25% of its people still live in poverty.

Did you know that…

  • 76 m don’t have access to safe water?

  • 774 m don’t have access to adequate sanitation?

  • 140K children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water & poor sanitation?

Project PANI is one of a series of water & sanitation initiatives implemented by our partner organisation, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) to help alleviate these problems in the remote Tribal villages of Pankua and Phularaas, neither of which had clean, safe water or sanitation prior to JRPs work with the local villagers (www.jrpsai.org).

A restored pond     Working in Odisha with 100 Tribal households and the local primary school, JRP and the villagers will together restore their large pond.  Once the pond is dredged and its boundaries strengthened ready for the next monsoon, its water will be harvested to support village agriculture & household kitchen gardens.  The villagers will also cultivate fish in the pond to contribute to food security and improve local nutrition.

A newly-built village toiletAlready water from the pond services the new toilets being provided to each family and to the village  school.

Village children and their parents now understand how important it is to maintain hygiene for their good health – and already these two villages have won a local government ‘Clean Village Award’. 

A sign encouraging good hygiene

A disused well

A disused well awaiting restoration

A new village hand pump

A new handpump provides safe water for household drinking & cooking

A female beekeeper

Women villagers now grow vegetables and produce honey and the family diet benefits from improved nutrition as a result of better access to water and skill-based training.

Women grow vegetables

If you would like Jeevika to help JRP replicate
this valuable initiative in more remote villages, click below!

Donate with JustGiving

 

 

Five shocking facts about ‘untouchability’ in India

by Michael Connellan, Jeevika Trust Trustee

Those in India’s lowest castes, and marginalised tribal groups, are officially known today as Dalits, which translates as ‘oppressed.’ Throughout history, and in today’s India, Dalits face extreme prejudice, exclusion and violence at the hands of higher caste groups.

Traditional practice slanders Dalits as ‘untouchable’ – meaning they are considered too polluting for other caste groups to interact with. This can see them barred from the homes of others, blocked from sharing village wells and paths with others, and blocked from livelihoods.

Overall, 27 per cent of Indians openly claim to practice untouchability – even though the practice is illegal.

 

The situation is worst in rural India. According to the India Human Development Survey, higher caste people living specifically in village areas are the most likely to indulge in discrimination through ‘untouchability’.

More than 100 million Indians are ‘untouchable’ in the eyes of those who practice it. Untouchability is a major factor in keeping impoverished Indians poor.

Rights groups claim almost one in three schools in India block Dalit children from sitting with other pupils. No wonder a reported 70 per cent of Dalit women in India are illiterate.

Rural villages are home to more than 90 per cent of India’s ‘untouchable’ population. But Jeevika Trust works in India’s rural communities to improve conditions & opportunities for Dalit & other marginalised people, providing opportunities for sustainable income generation, improved village facilities, better access to health & government services & a better understanding of their legal rights

HDR: Progress made but a long way to go

by Andrew Redpath, Executive Director at Jeevika Trust

The UN’s latest Human Development Report was published just before Christmas, and has hit not only Indian but international headlines – with a corresponding level of explanation and, it must be said, defensiveness from Indian sources – because it has again confirmed that India’s positioning at a dismal 130 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) contradicts the ‘shining’ image that India cultivates as a global country with its own nuclear, space and foreign aid programs.

 

Reactions of the India press to the country’s positioning so far down the HDI are partly sober and partly determined to show the upside and how fast the picture has been changing in the past 15 years.

As the planet’s soon-to-be biggest single nation, set to overtake China in population within 20 years or so, India is weighed down by awesome facts and statistics. These include, for example, the sheer scale of ‘below-the-poverty-line’ (BPL) poverty – the 8 poorest states in India containing more BPL poor than all 28 developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, – and child malnutrition – India has one-third of global undernourished children. More importantly, India has failed in one Five-Year Plan after another to apply clear and radical urbanisation or village development strategies to address the urban/rural balance and the challenge of stagnant rural poverty and unplanned ‘urban drift’: 70% of the population or about 830 million people are still classed as rural, and of these more than 300 million – compare that with the entire population of the US or Europe – are BPL.

 

As The Hindu newspaper emphasises in its report of 16 December 2015, “There is now no doubt that the last 10 years were a time of extraordinary human development in India”.   It goes on to record that between 2009 and 2011 India had witnessed the fastest-ever decrease in the percentage of its ‘below-the-poverty-line population’, that between 2000 and 2014 India’s Gross National Income more than doubled  and its Human Development Index value went from 0.462 to 0.609 , a far higher increase than in the previous 15-years.  “This was driven by improved economic growth and increase in life expectancy as a result of improved health care, and less so from improvements in educational outcomes, which have been harder to achieve, especially for women” – an important admission given the critical role of nationwide education in any definition of human development.

In terms of the oft-quoted measure that India hosts one-third of global child malnutrition, the India Health Report: Nutrition 2015 just released by the Public Health Foundation of India points out that “Child undernutrition, …. has begun to fall at historically high rates; between 2006 and 2014, stunting rates for children under five declined from 48 per cent to 39 per cent, translating into 14 million fewer stunted children”.

 

Let me conclude with the article’s up-beat summary:  “ These are extraordinary achievements …. but India must build on its human development successes with better redistributive justice”- namely between rural and urban, between states, and between gender, caste and class.