New Delhi: The Centre has told the Supreme Court that it is dedicated to improve access to menstrual hygiene for young and adolescent girls but the responsibility of providing healthcare services lies with the respective state governments as public health is a state subject. In an affidavit filed before the top court, the Health ministry said it has undertaken awareness and training programmes and made necessary resources available to girls across the country. The ministry said,
It is submitted that public health is a state subject and the responsibility of providing healthcare services is that of respective state governments. The Central government and its agencies are not the implementing bodies for schemes relating to menstrual health; and it is in fact the states and their agencies which are at the forefront of enforcement of the policies.
It submitted that the Central government is committed to improving menstrual hygiene for young and adolescent girls and to make necessary resources accessible to them. The affidavit was filed in response to a PIL by Congress leader Jaya Thakur seeking issuance of directions for providing free sanitary pads to girls studying in classes 6 to 12 in government schools across the country.
The ministry stated that menstruation and menstrual practices are clouded by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions for women as well as adolescent girls in India which is combined with limited access to products of sanitary hygiene and lack of safe sanitary facilities. The ministry further said,
Moreover, traditionally, there have been practices of using old clothes as pads by recycling them, use of ash or straw, which not affect menstrual hygiene but also have long term implications for reproductive health. The government is dedicated to increase awareness among adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene, build self-esteem and empower girls for better socialisation. The government is also working towards increasing access to and use of high quality sanitary napkins for girls in rural areas.
Thakur in her plea said serious difficulties are faced by adolescent females between the ages of 11 and 18 ,years who come from poor backgrounds, in receiving education on account of lack of access to education, a constitutional right under Article 21A of the Constitution. The plea said,
These are adolescent females who are not equipped with and are also not educated by their parents about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. The deprived economic status and illiteracy leads to prevalence of unhygienic and unhealthy practices which has serious health consequences, increase obstinacy and leads to eventual dropping out from schools.
The plea, filed through advocate Varun Thakur, said to achieve gender equality, it is crucial that girls are able to actualize their educational potential. Referring to a 2018 order of the Delhi High Court, the plea said it had mandated the Delhi government to provide free or subsidized access to menstrual hygiene products in schools and to make arrangements for education on menstruation and menstrual hygiene. It said,
The Government of India has deliberated for several years with regard to the inclusion of the right to education as a fundamental right. The Saikia Committee of 1997 had been appointed to examine the economic viability proposal as to whether the right to free elementary education up to 14 years of age could be made a fundamental right.
The plea said the Right to Education Act, 2009, was enacted and took effect from August 26, 2009 with the objective of providing free and compulsory education in the age group of six to 14 years. It added the apex court’s 2019 verdict in the Sabarimala temple case addressed menstrual taboos and the associated stigma and ruled that the discriminatory emphasis placed on biological differences constituted a violation of Article 14 — the right to equality — and emphasized that the social exclusion of women based on menstrual status is a form of untouchability. The plea further said,
Prevalent myths about menstruation force millions of girls to drop out of school early or be ostracized for the duration of their menstrual cycle every month. They also affect the hiring of female workers, as it is felt that the menstruation hampers their productivity capabilities. Unfortunately, it continues to be treated as a taboo in many societies, shrouded in a culture of silence and shame.
Thakur, in her plea, arrayed the Centre and all states as party and sought directions to them for providing separate toilets in all government, aided and residential schools. It also sought directions to provide one cleaner in all government, aided and residential schools to clean the toilets and implementation of an awareness programme among students on menstrual health.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.