Do you remember the horrific incident in the news where 68 girls were made to remove their underwear to prove their menstrual status? Can you imagine how invasive and traumatic that must have been for the victims? It is appalling that such an incident was even allowed to happen in the first place. Luckily thanks to media coverage, there was public outrage at the indecency of it all. This incident took place in the Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute in Bhuj town of Kutch, and a PIL was filed not long after in front of the Gujarat High Court.
The court has created guidelines and has requested the state and the centre for their opinions. For now, these are just suggestions, some of which include –
- Prohibiting any form of social exclusion based on their menstrual state at all places, private, public, religious or educational.
- More proactiveness from the state government to spread awareness to all citizens, including health workers, adolescents, parents and any stakeholders, when it comes to the exclusion of women in social places due to menstrual status. Using measures such as putting up posters in public areas, making sure it is a part of the school curriculum, using radio, entertainment or news channels, social impact films that impart awareness to young girls concerning menstrual health and hygiene.
- Sensitivity training of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi Workers regarding the biological process involved in menstruation so that they can impart this knowledge to the community and mobilise social support to bust menstruation-related myths. Even adolescent-friendly health services clinics should have trained human resources to address these issues.
- While the state government should be holding campaigns and drives, they should also invite NGOs and private organisations to spread awareness while remembering to include the topic of social exclusion of women based on menstrual status in all ongoing campaign and schemes that generate awareness on menstrual hygiene.
- For these guidelines to succeed, the state government needs to allocate the necessary and required funds towards these initiatives.
The sad truth of it all is due to the taboo associated with menstruation, many young women have limited access to information about menstruation. Their mothers also were not equipped when they were young and now continue to be reluctant to talk about it. The failure to speak openly means many adult women also do not have the know-how on the correct hygienic practices and biological facts. This is why community-based awareness and education campaigns play an essential role.
Special attention should be given to ensuring that school educators are equipped to handle subjects like menstruation with sensitivity. The State Governments should actively prohibit any form of social exclusion in educational institutions, hostels and living spaces for women – studying, working, and others, private or public. Surprise checks should be undertaken, proper mechanisms for taking actions to ensure compliance with these guidelines, including imposing an appropriate penalty against the institution committing wrong on this topic.
While these guidelines are a great starting point, the court is seeking responses from state and central government bodies – so nothing is set in stone yet. The matter is ongoing, and we will keep you updated.
Regarding these possible guidelines – we hope that sensitivity training is also included for male students. It is equally important that they be made aware and able to provide support if they see any injustices being meted out towards a woman just because she has her period. Furthermore, the language used in training those in the front lines of this cause needs to be inclusive of all menstruators.