Category Archives: Dignity and Social Development

Dean Spears on what motivated ‘Where India Goes?’

Dean Spears on what motivated ‘Where India Goes?’ Community Led Total Sanitation, March 30, 2018.

In this short video interview Dean Spears (Executive Director, RICE/Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Texas at Austin) talks about the key motivations behind the award-winning book he co-authored with Diane Coffey, ‘Where India Goes: Abandoned toilets, stunted development, and the cost of caste.’ Dean Spears_0

The book addresses a central puzzle: why is open defecation so persistently high in rural India?

And what to do about it?

It presents evidence showing that poor sanitation is an important determinant of the poor health outcomes of India’s children, and that the continuing relevance of the purity, pollution and untouchability norms of the caste system keeps open defecation alive today despite decades of government latrine construction programmes.

The main motivation for writing the book as Dean reflects in the interview, ‘hopefully it will get people involved and excited about trial and error around these solutions to these problems of purity and pollution and latrine pits filling up. Hopefully that can lead to something that really can accelerate the decline of open defecation in rural India.’

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”.

Olivia Onyemaobi, the Nigerian social entrepreneur improving menstrual hygiene management education in her country

Olivia Onyemaobi, the Nigerian social entrepreneur improving menstrual hygiene management education in her country. Lionesses of Africa, March 1, 2018.

Personal experiences and the desire to make a difference in the lives of others are often the two key drivers of social entrepreneurs when it comes to starting up their businesses. For Nigerian social entrepreneur, Olivia Onyemaobi, founder of Pad-Up Creations, her inspiration came from the need to help women and girls to manage their menstrual hygiene and fulfill their potential.

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Olivia Onyemaobi, founder of Pad-Up Creations (Nigeria)

What does your company do?

We are a social enterprise in Nigeria manufacturing affordable and eco-friendly washable/reusable sanitary pads to help keep girls in schools during their menstrual cycle and also improve women’s economic involvement in society. We also organize menstrual hygiene management and reproductive health education in schools and women groups.

Read the complete article.

Sanitary Napkin PadBank: Here’s How Some Women Are Pushing The Menstrual Hygiene Cause

Sanitary Napkin PadBank: Here’s How Some Women Are Pushing The Menstrual Hygiene Cause. Banega Swachh India, March 7, 2018.

From an MLA initiating India’s first sanitary PadBank to a 16-year-old coming forward to help the girls of her age, PadBanks being run by different women are emerging to be an important mechanism to provide sanitary napkins to women without means. Here are five such PadBanks

Move over PadMan, PadBanks are now what many are adopting to reach out to women with no access or awareness about menstrual hygiene. These PadBanks retain the basic functionality of a bank, but instead of money these dispense sanitary pad, either from free or charge a discounted rate.

While some women are providing sanitary napkins at a cheaper rate, others are breaking the myths and taboos associated with menstruation by making people aware. These women are not only challenging the societal norms, but have also made it their mission to raise the level of menstrual hygiene in Indiaindia

In India, 88 per cent of menstruating women do not use sanitary napkins. Be it ignorance or lack of affordability, the fact is that majority of women in India rely on unhygienic alternatives during periods.

In a bid to change this reality, women in India are providing sanitary napkins to less fortunate women and girls.

Read the complete article.

Bollywood’s ‘menstrual man’ movie targets Indian taboo

Bollywood’s ‘menstrual man’ movie targets Indian taboo. Asia Pacific News, February 7, 2018.

MUMBAI: A Bollywood movie about an inventor who created a revolutionary machine that makes cheap sanitary pads hits screens this week, challenging taboos surrounding menstruation in socially conservative India.

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Indian actor Akshay Kumar stars in ‘Pad Man’, a Bollywood movie about an inventor who created a revolutionary machine that makes cheap sanitary pads. (Photo: AFP/Sam Panthaky)

Arunachalam Muruganantham is nicknamed India’s “menstrual man” for transforming the lives of poor women forced to use items like old rags, sand and leaves during their periods.

He has been lauded by India’s government and is now getting the star treatment with Bollywood A-lister Akshay Kumar portraying him in “Pad Man”, releasing on Friday (Feb 9).

It is the latest socially conscious movie to come out of a film industry known more for producing complex love stories featuring handsome heroes and elaborate dance routines.

Read the complete article.

Menstrual hygiene management in humanitarian situations

NEWS ARTICLES

Nepal Fact Sheet: Safaa Paani (WASH Recovery) Program. USAID, December 2017. Some of the key outcomes are to: Map water sources using GIS technology across the two project districts; Renovate or construct 200 community water supply systems in earthquake-affected communities; and Promote sanitation, hygiene and menstrual hygiene management at temporary learning centers and schools

Menstrual Cups and Reusable Pads Are Literally Changing Lives Uganda’s Refugee Camps. Global Citizen, December 2017. The main goal of WoMena’s pilot program was to assess whether menstrual cups and reusable pads are feasible options for displaced women and girls.

For refugee women, periods a dangerous, shameful time. Reuters, March 2017. For refugee women, fleeing their homes for safety, the challenges of a period can be even greater. “There’s no dignity in having your period when you’re a refugee,” Terri Harris, of the Muslim women-led development charity Global One told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

REPORTS/JOURNAL ARTICLES

A Toolkit for Integrating MHM into Humanitarian Response: The Full Guide. Columbia University and International Rescue Committee, 2017. The toolkit was designed to support a range of humanitarian actors involved in the planning and delivery of emergency responses.

Transitions into puberty and access to sexual and reproductive health information in two humanitarian settings: a cross sectional survey of very young adolescents from Somalia and Myanmar. Conflict and Health, 2017. Very young adolescents (VYA) in humanitarian settings are largely neglected in terms of sexual and reproductive health (SRH). This study describes the characteristics of VYA aged 10-14 years in two humanitarian settings, focusing on transitions into puberty and access to SRH information.

Understanding the menstrual hygiene management challenges facing displaced girls and women: findings from qualitative assessments in Myanmar and Lebanon. Confl Health. 2017 Oct 16. Key findings included that there was insufficient access to safe and private facilities for MHM coupled with displacement induced shifts in menstrual practices by girls and women.

Menstrual Health in RHINO Camp Refugee Settlement, West Nile Uganda. WoMena Uganda, 2017. With support from WoMena Uganda, ZOA implemented a MHM pilot intervention in Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement to assess the acceptability of introducing menstrual cups and reusable pads as part of their Teach Me More school-based programme. The pilot also aimed to assess the feasibility of following guidelines for safe use and care of the reusable products.

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) for Education in Emergencies (EIE): A Study for Plan International Tanzania. PLAN International, September 2017. The study’s four objectives were to: • Identify the meaning of menstruation in the daily lives of adolescent girls in Nduta Camp; • Assess the impact of MHM on adolescent girls’ school attendance in Nduta Camp; • Assess the support resources (parents, teachers, community) align with MHM promotes the adolescent girls’ school attendance in Nduta Camp.

Mitigating Threats to Girls’ Education in Conflict Affected Contexts: Evidence Review. UNGEI, October 2017. Though there is scarce literature about this issue from conflict-affected contexts, we also include in this section a brief discussion of WASH and MHM facilities in schools, as these are very important for adolescent girls to feel safe, secure, and respected at school.

How can Humanitarian Organisations Encourage More Women in Surge? ActionAid, April 2017. Personal hygiene: The most critical thing that this study can advise in relation to menstrual hygiene is to encourage all humanitarian organisations to create safe spaces for women and men to talk about periods and toilet access.

Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management in Nepal. PSI Nepal, 2017. This scoping review and preliminary mapping of Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management (MHM) in Nepal is one of the first of its kind in Nepal. Through this review, we studied in-depth the MHM situation in Nepal, bottlenecks and opportunities for the way forward.

The Last Taboo: Research on menstrual hygiene management in the Pacific: Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), September 2017. The study was undertaken in 2016-17 and focuses on menstruation and how it is managed by women and adolescent girls in Solomon Islands (SI), Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG). The purpose of the study was to explore the challenges experienced by women and girls in managing their menstruation.

What is the scope for addressing menstrual hygiene management in complex humanitarian emergencies? A global review. Waterlines, July 2016. This global review assessed the landscape of MHM practice, policy, and research within the field of humanitarian response.