Tag Archives: International Women’s Day

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”.

A gender-inclusive approach in practice: communal sanitation

WSUP believes that the issue of gender inclusion is fundamental to effective WASH service provision. To mark International Women’s Day and to recognise the importance of this issue, we have produced a new Practice Note which provides a contextual background on gender issues in WASH, before illustrating what a gender-inclusive approach looks like in practice. This Practice Note is based on direct experience of communal sanitation in Maputo (Mozambique) and Naivasha (Kenya), and demonstrates how the concerns of women and girls can be addressed at every step of programme planning and implementation.

Gender Inclusive Sanitation

This is a free resource and is available for download by clicking on the image above or visiting our online resource library.

WASHplus Weekly: Focus on WASH and Gender

Issue 91 | March 8, 2013 | Focus on Gender Issues

March 8, 2013, is International Women’s Day, a day that has been observed since the early 1900s. Gender is an important issue in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). In most societies women have the primary responsibility for managing the household water supply, sanitation, and health.washplus-weekly

Water is necessary not only for drinking, but also for food production and preparation, care of domestic animals, personal hygiene, care of the sick, cleaning, washing, and waste disposal. A UN policy paper explains that because of their dependence on water, women have accumulated considerable knowledge about water resources, including location, quality, and storage methods. Despite this, women’s central role in water management is often overlooked.

Transforming women’s lives: WaterAid video for International Women’s Day

“Men never come to collect water as it is a woman’s responsibility to provide water and prepare food”. Shanti Devi (35), Gopalpur Mushari, India

March 8th is International Women’s Day. WaterAid has launched a new promotional video “Transforming women’s lives” to highlight the impact their work has on women.

For more resources on women see WaterAid’s publications on Equity and Inclusion, the list of resources from the SHARE programme (search on women), the WSSCC thematic page on Gender and WASH and the latest publications on gender in the IRC WASH Library.

Dear Congress: Support Rural Women by Lisa Schechtman

March 8, 2012 – Dear Congress: Support Rural Women | Source – Lisa Schechtman – Global Policy TV – Lisa Schechtman is the head of policy and advocacy at WaterAid in America, the U.S. member of WaterAid International, the world’s largest NGO focused on providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene education (WASH) services for poor communities in 27 countries around the world. 

Imagine being a girl growing up in a village in sub-Saharan Africa. There’s a good chance there is no well in your village, and your nearest source of water is a river or a stream that is as many as three miles away over what might be rocky, isolated terrain.

The water may not be safe to drink, because your village probably also lacks sanitation facilities, but it’s your only choice.

So, instead of going to school, you spend at least 30 minutes a day, often longer, walking to the river, filling jerry cans, and struggling home with over 40 pounds on your head. You risk stumbling, animal attacks, sexual assault. At last you get home, and, while you have water to drink, it makes you sick and leaves you caring for family members who are also sick. It doesn’t matter though: you have to do it all over again the next day—and every day after that.Sadly, this is not the only harm that comes from your basic need for water. Carrying heavy loads can lead to uterine prolapse, a potentially serious and excruciating condition that may result in the inability to ever have children safely.If you or a family member is living with HIV/AIDS, you need extra water to keep things clean and hopefully stave off infections that kill people with compromised immune systems. That means more trips to the river, more time away from school or work.

Countering menstrual hygiene taboos in Nepal

A renowned contemporary artist is taking her form of menstrual activism to the streets of Kathmandu.

Ashmina Ranjit's performance. Photo: Cor Dietvorst

All eyes at the Alliance Française in Kathmandu were on Ashmina Ranjit when she entered the grounds in a dress made entirely of sanitary napkins. From a thin tube she squirted blood on the napkins, one at a time, folded them and deposited them in a waste basket. Besides her performance, the visual artist and activist had transformed the women’s toilet at the Alliance Française into an installation by fully covering its interior with sanitary napkins. Ashmina Ranjit’s performance took place on 12 March during the “Week of the Women” organised by the Alliance Française to celebrate International Women’s Day (8 March).

In many countries like Nepal, women are considered to be “impure” during their menstrual cycle and are prohibited to take part in social life. With her performance, Ashwina Ranjit attempts to remove the taboos surrounding menstruation. In her eyes, menstruation is a natural phenomenon that should be celebrated as a feminine force.

During Ashmina Ranjit’s performance, leaflets on menstrual hygiene management were handed out to the audience. Many girls who drop out of school do so because they do not have access to sanitary napkins and separate toilets, the leaflet said. Neglecting menstrual hygiene can also lead to chronic health problems. WaterAid Nepal and other local NGOs are raising awareness about the importance of better menstrual hygiene practices especially in rural areas. In 2009, WaterAid Nepal published a study on menstrual hygiene in four schools.

Meanwhile, Ashmina Ranjit will continue her own artistic form of menstrual activism. The next venue for her controversial performance will be the streets of Kathmandu.

Installation by Ashmina Ranjit. Photo: Cor Dietvorst