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 the lack of menstrual hygiene products at flood relief shelters, a group of women rights advocates led by activist Mayuri Bhattacharjee have sent sanitary pads to state health and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to get his attention.
A ‘gift box’ containing pads and hygiene kits has been delivered to the minister’s office to urge him to include menstrual hygiene products in the list of essential relief materials provided by the government at flood shelters.
Besides the 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.
The products in the gift box have been specially procured from a local social enterprise- The Eco Hub in Bokakhat.
Floods have affected lakhs of people across Assam, 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.
Mayuri’s petition asking the state government to build 50 women-friendly flood relief shelters has been signed by almost 72,000 people and continues to gather momentum.
She has also urged the 72,000 supporters of her petition to order eco-friendly sanitary pads online and mail them to the minister.
“Reason behind this campaign is menstrual hygiene products are still not included in the list of essential relief material provided by the government at flood shelters,” she says.
Last year, the former Assam’s Disaster Management Minister Bhabesh Kalita responded to her campaign promising action but later said that “including pads would require a budgetary the allocation”, which led Mayuri to come up with the idea of sending a gift box containing pads to finance minister Sarma.
Women are the worst affected owing to this lack of infrastructure. Their woes are amplified due to the lack of menstrual hygiene management facilities.
“Lakhs of girls and women of Assam is 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,” says Mayuri.
In a survey conducted post-2017 Assam floods in three districts—Sonitpur, Biswanath, and Nagaon— Mayuri and her team found that there was no proper menstrual hygiene management infrastructure.
“On 15th August, in his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort, 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,” she added.
(The writer is an award-winning independent journalist. He can be reached at email@example.com)