Guwahati: As floods and landslides ravage Assam, women’s rights activists have come up with a novel idea to draw the state government’s attention to the plight of women living in flood relief shelters.
Having raised an online petition on Change.org about the lack of menstrual hygiene products/ sanitary pads at flood relief shelters, a group of women’s rights advocates led by activist Mayuri Bhattacharjee have now taken up an extraordinary measure to bring the issue of menstrual hygine of women to the fore. They sent sanitary pads to state health and finance minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma to get his attention.
A ‘gift box’ containing pads and hygiene kits has been delivered to the minister’s office and to the office of the state disaster management authority to urge them to include menstrual hygiene products in the list of essential relief materials provided by the government at flood shelters.
The box was delivered by Nelson Deb of The Eco Hub, which is a social enterprise manufacturing eco-friendly pads in Assam.
Besides pads, the box contains the following items as a part of a hygiene kit: hand sanitizer, bathing soap, detergent powder, bleaching powder, phenyl, a mosquito coil, a pair of underwear and a face mask.
Also, to highlight the gravity of the situation, Mayuri has urged the 80,000 signees of the online petition to order eco-friendly sanitary pads online and mail them to the minister.
Floods affect lakhs of people across Assam every year, pushing them to take refuge at flood relief shelters set up by the government.
However, women in these camps end up as the worst sufferers, with no access to menstrual hygiene products. As such products are yet to make it to the ‘essential commodities’ list of the state disaster management authority.
The petition which has now been signed by over 80,000 people and counting, asks the government to build 50 women-friendly flood relief shelters.
Last year, the then state Disaster Management Minister Bhabesh Kalita responded her campaign promising action but later said that “including pads would require a budgetary allocation”. This led Mayuri to come up with the idea of sending a gift box containing pads to health and finance minister of Assam.
The gift box has specially procured products from a local social enterprise- The Eco Hub in Bokakhat.
“Lakhs of girls and women of Assam are caught in floods every year, and with no access to sanitary pads at flood relief shelters, they face great difficulty dealing with their periods. Some of them are even forced to bleed on their clothes. Thus, women go through a nightmare of unhygienic periods, floods and now even the pandemic,” said Mayuri.
“On 15th August, in his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort, honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the importance of women’s hygiene and sanitary napkins. The Assam government should pay heed to the PM’s message and take the lead in building these women-friendly flood relief shelters where women have access to menstrual hygiene products. I am sending this gift box with locally sourced pads to send a message that solutions are available if the government wants to work with citizens like us,” she added.
“Access to menstrual hygiene products is every woman’s right. For those in distress, like lakhs of flood-affected women in Assam’s flood shelters, it becomes even more crucial. It’s high time that the state health and finance minister of Assam soon figure out the budget and logistics to ensure that sanitary pads are included in the list of essential relief materials for all flood shelters,” says Nida Hasan, country director, Change.org India.