Author Archives: dietvorst

Menstrual Pads Can’t Fix Prejudice [feminist opinion piece]

In her opinion piece in the New York Times of 31 March 2018, Chris Bobel criticises the type of menstrual activism that has a narrow focus on “better living through more consumption” of sanitary pads. The core problem surrounding menstruation in her opinion is cultural stigma. Many NGOs and social entrepreneurs promote “a simple solution to what is, in reality, a complex problem”. What is needed, she writes, is “access to a clean, secure toilet”, to treat menstruation as something normal rather than a nuisance, and “culturally sensitive community-based education about the menstrual cycle […] not only girls, but also everyone surrounding them — boys, parents, teachers, religious leaders and health professionals”.

Read the full opinion piece in the New York Times. See also Is Bollywood’s Pad Man movie too good to be true?

Chris Bobel is an associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and past president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. She is the author of the forthcoming The Managed Body: Developing Girls and Menstrual Health in the Global South.

 

Is Bollywood’s Pad Man movie too good to be true?

Checking the facts and assumptions about menstrual hygiene in developing countries.

Mensrual hygiene painting-crop

Painting by students of the Dr. M.M. den Hertogschool, The Hague, on the importance of menstrual hygiene management and school WASH. Photo: IRC

March 8th was International Women’s Day. Which approach to menstrual hygiene management fits best with this year’s theme urging everyone to #PressforProgress on gender parity? Is it pressing for access to affordable menstrual products or is there more to it?

A few weeks ago, I joined a group of my female colleagues and family to watch “Pad Man”, the Bollywood film inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham.  He is an acclaimed Indian social activist and entrepreneur who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. Muruganantham famously tested sanitary pads on himself, using a bladder with animal blood, while riding his bicycle. “Pad Man” is a feel good, uplifting movie. We left the cinema dancing to the tune of the Pad Man Song.

Too good to be true?

But then, a few days later an IRC colleague from India referred us to a blog that claimed to tell the “real story” about the man, who “shot to fame by selling shame”. The author, Sinu Joseph, is Managing Trustee of the Myrthi Speaks Trust, a Bengaluru-based social activist group working on issues including menstrual health and sanitation. Sinu had initially been involved in distributing Mr. Muruganantham’s sanitary pads until angry mothers complained that she was “trying to get rid of some cheap stuff by dumping it” on their daughters.

Fact check

Sinu counters several of the “facts” mentioned in “Pad Man”, which are also regularly quoted in the media. The first is that Indian women use ash, sand and husks as menstrual absorbents and consequently suffer “from Reproductive Tract Infections for want of a Pad”.  Sinu has found no evidence of this, both from her own experience and the literature. In fact, she says there is no evidence linking the use of menstrual products such as cloth to any menstrual disorder.

Second is the widely quoted statistic that only 12% of Indian women use sanitary napkins. Wrong again, says Sinu: the National Family Health Study of 2015-16 found that the real number is 57.6% , 48.5% in rural, 77.5% in urban areas. Finally, there is no evidence that girls in India drop out of school owing to menstruation and the lack of sanitary napkins. Similar findings emerged from a 2010 study in Nepal, which at the time was not welcomed by the pro-sanitary napkin development lobby.

A developing country problem?

The evidence Sinu refers to, comes from a review of 90 papers, which Myrthi Speaks conducted in 2016. The review not only dispels the “facts” mentioned above but also challenges the assumption that developing countries have a greater prevalence of menstrual disorders than in the West. In fact, the review found that the opposite is true. In developed nations, a higher percentage of adult women and adolescents suffer from heavy bleeding and painful or irregular periods than in developing countries.

Shame

So why has the real-life Pad Man attracted so much uncritical support? Is it because this unlikely hero, an uneducated man, took it upon himself to elevate Indian women from their shameful state? Indeed, most of the women in the Pad Man movie are portrayed as ignorant, led by superstition. In Sinu’s words, “shame has been sold to us in a nice package with celebrity endorsements”.

Glorifying traditional practices?

Sinu has been criticised for promoting the traditional practice of seclusion, which she says provides women who are part of joint families “privacy and comfort during menstruation”. A 2015 blog by Eco Femme, an Indian social enterprise producing washable sanitary pads, said that Sinu neglects those women who experience being excluded as degrading. Harrowing stories about the illegal Nepali practice of Chhaupadi, where girls are forced to spend their periods in cattle sheds, come to mind. The Pad Man film similarly condemns the segregation of women during menstruation.

Interestingly, Arunachalam Muruganantham, Sinu Joseph, Eco Femme, along with many development agencies all claim that they understand women’s needs. Whose view do you support? Or have they all got it wrong?

This blog was originally posted on the IRC website.

Update, 21 March 2018

On 16 March 2018 a TEDxKLETech talk by Sinu Joseph on the “Super science behind Menstrual practices” carried the following warning by TEDx “This talk contains several assertions about Ayurveda that are not supported by studies in gynecological medicine. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful as a complementary approach, please do not look to this talk for medical advice”.

IHUWASH Accelerator India seeks high impact urban WASH innovations

India IHUWASH sanitationIndia IHUWASH hygiene

The IHUWASH Accelerator India program identifies and supports high-impact WASH business innovations to work with the city governments of Faridabad, Udaipur and Mysuru to solve pressing urban WASH problems.  Submissions should focus on one or more of the following urban WASH innovations:

  1. Safe drinking water
  2. Last-mile water distribution
  3. Recovering water supply costs
  4. Decentralised and improved sanitation solutions
  5. Improving public/community toilets
  6. Sustainable faecal waste treatment
  7. Hygiene behaviour change

Benefits for the selected innovations include opportunities to:

  • Roll out small-scale pilots that demonstrate your WASH innovation to governments
  • Work directly with key government officials, sector experts and impact investors
  • Showcase your innovation through a high visibility nation-wide program
  • Raise funds from private sector companies and impact investors

More program details are available here. Applications for the program are now open and they close on 22nd Jan 2018.

Please apply to the program (or) help identify relevant WASH business innovations by nominating them to chandrakant.komaragiri@ennovent.com.

About IHUWASH:

IHUWASH is a collaborative initiative between NIUATaruIRC and Ennovent. The three year project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and aims to improve the performance of urban WASH programs for India within a collaborative framework. Under IHUWASH, national and city-level Innovation Hubs are being established to work closely with the Faridabad, Mysuru and Udaipur city governments along with other national level WASH stakeholders.

The IHUWASH Accelerator builds on the experience of the 2016 Sanitation Innovation Accelerator in which Taru, IRC and Ennovent were also involved.

Understanding the Indian rural sanitation market

How stakeholders should work together to end open defecation.

india_odisha_-_public_toilets-650x433

Toilet block in Odisha, India. Photo: Andrea van der Kerk/IRC

Solving rural sanitation problems in India requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders. These include government, programme implementers, financing institutions, entrepreneurs and households. Understanding the roles, strengths and weaknesses of each stakeholder, how they interact and complement each other, is key to achieving India’s ambitious goal of ending open defecation by 2019.

As a follow-up to the Sanitation Innovation Accelerator, IRC, Ennovent and Ecociate Consultants commissioned a study to gain insights in the sanitation market in Bihar and Odisha, two states with relatively low levels of sanitation coverage: 29% and 43% respectively. The study was conducted over a period of 3 months (from January to March 2017) in two rural districts: one with a high population density and situated in a heavy clay silt agricultural plain (Samastipur district, Bihar) and the other with a low population density situated in a sandy tropical coast (Ganjam district, Odisha).

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Sanitation experts review Bollywood’s “Toilet: A Love Story”

This is the score CAWST’s sanitation experts gave for the Bollywood film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha or Toilet: A Love Story, which they reviewed for World Toilet Day.  Read the full review by CAWST Communications and Engagement Officer Holly Claeys.

Toilet Design 

Role of Government 

Fecal Sludge Management 

Behaviour Change 

Developing Competencies 

Handwashing 

 

SACOSAN 7: registration closes 15 December

SACOSAN logo

South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN),  a government led biennial convention held on a rotational basis in each SAARC country (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), provides a platform for interaction on sanitation.

SACOSAN VII will be held on 13-17 February 2018 in Pakistan, hosted by Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan.

The deadline for registration is 15 December 2017.

Below is an overview of the theme papers and country leads

Theme papers

Lead country

Sanitation as cross cutting (Health and Nutrition)

Afghanistan

Climate Change/Environment and Sanitation

Bangladesh

Sociology of Sanitation

Bhutan

Operation, Maintenance and Sustainability of WASH

India

Policy, Strategy and Sector Planning (institutional arrangements)

Maldives

Human Resource Development for WASH

Nepal

Accountability and Regulation

Monitoring and Evaluation

Pakistan or Sri Lanka? [conflicting info on website]

WASH Financing

Sri Lanka or Pakistan? [conflicting info on website]

For more information and updates go to: sacosan.com/

The ABC of WASH in Schools in India

ABC of WASH in Schools“The ABC of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) improvement in schools” in India by the the Urban Management Centre is a handbook developed under the Ahmedabad Sanitation Action Lab (ASAL), a three year action research program.

The program was specially designed to implement innovative solutions to school WASH  problems in identified slum settlements of Ahmedabad. ASAL was led by the Urban Management Centre (UMC) in partnership with Government of Gujarat (GoG) and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) with support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The handbook is a compilation of the strategies adopted, tools developed and materials used to improve WASH infrastructure in schools. It will be useful for schools as well as NGOs working with schools on water and sanitation. It can be used by any authority whether national, state or city level as a resource for implementation of programs in school at different scales. The handbook can also be used as a reference for policy or decision making as well as elaboration of programs.

Download the publicationThe ABC of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) improvement in schools“, September 2017, 54 p.

See the full list of reports, tools, manuals and videos of the Ahmedabad Sanitation Action Lab (ASAL) programme.