“The times are bad in our village. A lot of young boys in the village are upto no good” says JayaBen. With an anxious look she explains “the young boys trouble, tease and cat call at our girls when they are going out to the fields”.
On my recent trip to Bhayala, a small village I realised the odds are stacked up against young adolescent girls; they have to live in a patriarchal society that discriminates against them, they are denied opportunities and they have to live in the fear of sexual assault everyday.
JayaBen has three young daughters. It is for their safety that she took a sanitation loan from Shanti Life and built a toilet and a bathroom that is attached to her house.
A study from Dasra, an organisation working towards social change, shows that 63 million adolescent girls in India do not have access to private toilet*. Most days they hold their bladder and control their bowel movements. Imagine what they must do when they are menstruating?
Dasra’s report also claims that 23% of girls drop out of school on reaching puberty because of their inability to manage menstrual health at school.**
Majority of the women in rural areas do not have access to clean and safe sanitary products. They use old rags and commercial pads are either difficult to get or expensive for rural women. The lack of a clean or private space in which they can change their menstrual cloths or products often leads to RTIs (Reproductive Tract Infections).
Dissolving such taboos becomes even more difficult when most girls start missing school because of their inability to manage menstruation. Menstruation in most areas is meant to invisible and silent and so are the menstruating women. Menstrual hygiene awareness definately does not benefit when information has been derived from old-woman rumours, ignorance and censorship.
At Shanti Life we celebrate women who have taken proacative steps to build toilets for themselves and their daughters, like JayaBen. And we recognise that this is the best first step towards achieving good menstrual as well sanitation hygiene.
However, building infrastructure needs to be met with education and awareness. Women and girls must understand the significance of good hygiene and the solutions need to respond to the needs of these women rather offering one-size-fits all solutions, like the government free toilets.
Shanti Life provides access to sanitation through micro loans. We do this by:
- We are exploring how facilities can be spread through schools.
- We provide solutions that respond to their needs rather than offering one-size-fits all solutions
- We speak one on one with girls to identify and design solutions for their sanitation and hygiene needs
- We prioritize individual toilets over community toilets
- We are looking to invest in school-based access and adoption of improved sanitation and hygiene
- We promote sensitivity – not secrecy – towards adolescent girls’ sanitation and hygiene needs