90% of women health issues are linked to menstrual hygiene, and educating them about it would be the real empowerment, says Devendra Kumar Gupta Founder & CEO – Ladli Foundation Trust
How does health and hygiene illiteracy affect women’s health in urban slums and villages?
Elongated use and reuse of sanitary pads among women/girls in urban slum is a cause of worry as it is major source of infection. This needs to be addressed on massive scale across the country only then free sanitary pad distribution initiatives can benefit females. According to the findings of a study conducted by us approximately 50% girls in schools – who knew about the sanitary pad – were not aware about its usage. Also, 57% of females living in these localities found to have increased lymphocytes when diagnosed at our medical camps. In Delhi slums, 60-70% females have one or other type of chronic illness like cervical disorders, pathological Leukorrhea – caused by unhygienic menstrual conditions.
These urban slums lack adequate diagnosis facility. To fill this gap, we setup medical diagnosis camps to educate women on menstrual hygiene; to help them get the right medicine from government clinics and PHCs (Primary Health Centers). In Rohtak district of Haryana, there was immense initial resistance from males regarding discussing these issues with their women/girls. After counseling, they became comfortable. And to our surprise some of the girls/women asked about ‘how to eat this – the sanitary pad?’ So how can you expect that they would know about its usage and disposal? We also learnt that sanitary pads were unavailable in medical and general store in and around this village.
What are the major initiatives taken by Ladli Foundation Trust so far to empower and educate such women?
To resolve these issues, we have collaborated with corporate houses and companies to conduct medical tests. Till date we have diagnosed nearly 57,000 girls and women in the country at various locations. We decided to approach and sensitize the affected women to counsel and educate them about personal hygiene, especially during menstruation. Under Ladli Foundation’s Saheli initiative, we sensitize both mother and daughter because there is no barrier for discussions related to any such issues faced by a girl. Further, we analyze all the reports and share the outcomes with our sponsors (ONGC, Bharat Petroleum, and Asian Paints). So far, response from the corporate has been encouraging and they continue to support these programs. However, the government agencies’ response was lukewarm. We need more support from other players as well to spread our network and outreach.
Why are you working on these issues specifically?
I grew up in a slum area and witnessed all of these issues right from my own house to the neighbourhood. Moreover, these women/ girls do not discuss such issues with doctors and indulge in self medication. In absence of adequate diagnosis, mortality rate remains high among slum girls with maximum age being 35 to 40 years. Hepatitis, diabetes or possible HIV infection found to be major cause of death. A WHO report says that women who are subjected to domestic abuse or some kind of stress tend to get into multiple sexual activities without even knowing the consequences of unprotected sex. They lack information about the high infection risk of sex during menstruation. Most of HIV/AIDS organization works in red-light areas only, and sex workers are more aware about STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) as compared to slum women. Schoolgirls are at least aware of sanitary pads and its usage but what about the school dropouts?
How do parameters of empowerment and education vary in urban and village constituencies?
90% of women health issues are linked to menstrual hygiene, and educating them about it would be the real empowerment. In such a social scenario, 33% reservation and representation in parliament seems to be a distant thought. A uniform measure can’t be applied to all. Surprisingly, urban slums has higher chronic infection rate, compared to rural areas that have just 1-2%. Proper training about usage and disposal of sanitary pads is must rather than just distribution of pads. If the problem of usage and availability is an issue in urban slums and rural pockets; the lack of adequate knowledge about after-use disposal is prevalent among educated urban girls/ women.
Interviewed by Nikunj Sharma