People with disabilities in India are getting the menstrual hygiene resources they need thanks to a new accessible toolkit.
As We Grow Up is a toolkit of materials designed to help people in India who are blind, have low vision, or are deaf or hard of hearing better understand their bodies, puberty, and how to manage their periods with dignity. The kit includes a manual, which is available in English and Hindi (accessible electronically in Braille, video, and audio), menstrual hygiene bracelets that are to be worn as symbols of menstrual pride, and a tactile apron of the reproductive system, the Hindu reports.
In a series of workshops, educators are turning to the materials to help young girls and their families understand the importance of menstrual hygiene management without shame.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), a UN organization that advocates for improved sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable and marginalized people around the world, developed the toolkit in 2018 with input from women with visual and hearing disabilities. IIT Delhi, the Centre of Excellence in Tactile Graphics, Saksham Trust, and the Noida Deaf Society, were also involved in the process.
'As we Grow up: A Tactile Book on Menstrual Hygiene Management' is a manual accessible to visually impaired people which is developed by @WSSCCouncil and @iitdelhi in Braile along with tactile illustrations.@MHDay28May@MHHub_Global@MenstrualHygien#womenhealth#healthcarepic.twitter.com/Pn0ovMWdjK— SAKSHAM (@SakshamTrust) May 21, 2018
Archana Patkar, former head of policy at the WSSCC, told the Hindu she didn’t want to leave anyone out when creating As We Grow Up.
“I wanted to ensure that all women and girls would be able to participate in and benefit from breaking the silence around menstruation and menstrual hygiene. This included working with the blind, deaf, those with physical and mental disabilities, and transmen,” she said.
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Stigma results in the underreporting of the number of people with disabilities, but in 2011, India’s census recorded 26.8 million people living with disabilities, 11.8 million of whom are women and girls.
Thanks @majumdar_swapna for highlighting the fact that visually and hearing impaired women and girls are human beings with sexual organs and linked desires. A fervent plea to keep menstruators centre stage in menstrual health/hygiene #voiceandchoice#humanrights#morethanpadshttps://t.co/9NBVHqHZwi— ARCHANA PATKAR (@patkararchana) March 17, 2019
Many young people from marginalized communities don’t always receive the education they need about their bodies and menstrual hygiene management at home, according to Charlotte Vuyiswa McClain-Nhlapo, disability adviser at the World Bank.
“Generally, women and girls with disabilities face taboos when discussing and/or understanding menstruation,” she told Global Citizen.
“This is part of the broader societal misconceptions about their reproductive health and hygiene needs. It is, therefore, essential to provide accurate and accessible information on the menstrual cycle and its management. In addition, it is important to ensure that water and sanitation facilities are accessibly designed, private, and safe for all girls with disabilities," she said.
Lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and waste management in India perpetuates shame, social isolation, and sterilization. Research has shown that hysterectomies are often carried out on girls with disabilities following requests from parents and caregivers, to stop them from menstruating.
As We Grow Up is already impacting communities around India. Anita Kumari, a teacher, told the Hindu that before using the materials included in the toolkit, she had been too embarrassed to discuss male and female reproductive organs like many of her colleagues.
And mother Rita Rathaur, who said she received a limited education, told the Hindu taking WSSCC workshops at Saksham School in the city of Noida has made explaining menstruation to her 14-year-old twin daughters who have low vision much easier.
“The hope is that it will replace the shame and silence with information, confidence, and pride,” Patkar said.