With No Water Or Electricity In Manipur’s Noney, How Do Women Think Of Menstrual Hygiene?

Urmila Chanam
Posted June 6, 2018 from India
A tribal woman who runs a pharmacy says sanitary pads are mostly bought by unmarried and young girls
Primary Health Center in this hill district has majority women patients; don't the men get sick at all? (1/5)

A village woman in the hills of Noney in Manipur carries a cane basket ‘Kah’ on her head, collects vegetables and fruits from her farm or forest to sell in the main market on National Highway 37 and earns a petty income to support her family. Women walk long distances for their livelihood activities, to visit the hospital, school, market or medical store. The number of households having their own private car or two-wheeler is less. There is no facility of public transport in this hill district of Manipur which has a population of close to 37,000 barring a few private autos that run on the highway but no commendable transportation linking villages located up in the hills to the main market, the district headquarters or health facilities. Additionally, the condition of roads, in areas where people have no other means but to walk, is exceptionally bad with sharp stones and rocks and not a sign of tar topping anywhere. The private transport available only for a little patch on the main road offers no significant relief to women.

‘Breaking the Silence’, a global campaign works on raising awareness on menstruation and best hygiene practices in remote parts of India. It interacted with several women in its outreach program in Noney District with an objective of understanding barriers here. A woman complained of pain in the neck, back and legs from carrying a full basket for long distances on foot. The Medical Officer at the Primary Health Centre pointed out that majority of the OPD cases are dominated by women, though the exact underlying reason is not ascertained. Most of the medical complaints among women patients are related to excessive physical activity like back pain, knee pain and joint pain. White discharge and itchiness are common hygiene related complaints.

From the many interactions with community, health and medical personnel, there is reason to believe that lack of public transportation in Noney is affecting the health and morbidity of women, limiting their access to opportunity and income, medical facilities and emergency services, rendering undue stress from this forced hardship and affecting their productivity.

In times of delivery, it becomes very difficult for families of pregnant women to rush her to the PHC. While the Health Department advocates for an institutional delivery, if there is no transportation and good roads, how can such goals be achieved? In other parts of India, the state governments run call centre-based ambulance services, toll-free helplines 108 and 102 to provide free ambulance pick up and drop service to pregnant women linking public healthcare to the remotest villages of India under the National Health Mission and Department of Health and Family Welfare. 108 ambulance service aims to reach patients in rural parts within 40 minutes and bring them to the nearest health facility. Even sanitary pads distributed in government hospitals after a delivery and by ASHAs to girls and women in villages are not known in this region, nor are similar government relief policies visible.

Villages do not have medical stores and little shops selling few essential household items do not sell sanitary napkins. Sanitary napkins are only found in the medical stores and pharmacies numbering less than ten, located in the main market. Mostly girls and women come to buy these sanitary napkins, so the pharmacist wraps it in a newspaper to help shy customers. The most popular brands are Stayfree for its low cost and Whisper for its absorbency and anti-leak technology. Few Chinese brands are also popular including Magnetic Energy Anion Sanitary Napkins and AiRiz Active Oxygen and Negative Ion Soft Cotton Sanitary Napkins. Though priced much higher than Indian brands (close to Rs.200 per pack), the foreign manufacturers claim to provide relief from menstrual cramps, infections, itchiness and foul smell. The government needs to have mechanisms to verify how safe these products are and promote affordable and safe products only.

Without good transportation mechanism, access to sanitary materials and medical consultation and treatment are limited considerably. Mechanisms to assess and ensure the safety, affordability, accessibility and availability of sanitary napkins and materials in the market needs to be in place so girls and women are not exposed to danger and other medical complications from poor quality products and can buy and use sanitary napkins with ease.

Awareness of other sanitary materials other than cloth and pads like tampons, menstrual cups, eco-friendly bio-degradable sanitary pads or reusable cloth pads is low. The biology of menstruation and correlation to vitality, health and ability to give birth is not understood by a majority of girls and women. Girls and women seek clarity on diet during periods for reducing weakness or menstrual cramps, they ask us not taking a bath or washing hair during periods was scientific and good for health, or for a remedy for itchiness and skin infections.

The most common complaints we’ve head from them are itchiness, irregular periods, low volume blood flow during menstruation, menstrual cramps and skin infections. The cause of skin infection is due a lack of personal hygiene and ignorance. These problems are seldom shared with mothers or teachers and the extent of silence is so profound that young girls seek medical solutions in pharmacies and with quacks, and rarely with adults known to them.

A trained nurse, Amona Kamei who runs Gaza Pharmacy in Noney bazaar, shares her observation that young girls do not even have basic hygiene knowledge of taking bath daily, using soap to wash hands and that wearing washed and clean undergarments can go a long way in avoiding skin infections. Another pharmacist, S.K Aneiliu, runs Highway Medical and advocates for frequent sanitary napkin change to avoid infections to buyers.

A stream running through the village.

What is most ironic is the water scarcity experienced by the community in Noney, despite receiving high rainfall and having rivers like Ijei (Agah in Rongmei/Kabui dialect), Iril(Aling in Rongmei dialect) and Leimatak(Apin in Rongmei dialect). Households do not receive tap water and there are no significant water reservoirs. People connect pipes to brooks which bring water either to a common point in the village for the entire habitation or to a few homes, since this is a private arrangement to secure water and not by the government. Additionally, this water is untreated and does not offer uninterrupted supply when brooks dry up in the lean season. The electricity supply is erratic and power cuts last not less than a week. The impact of this on productivity, small-scale industry and the quality of life is obvious.

70 years of independence and yet, a tribal community in northeastern region of India still awaits water supply, electricity, roads and transportation in Noney district in Manipur.

Left on its own to find a way, the tribal community composed of the Kabui tribe, Chiru, Kuki and Inpuimei has found solace in the Church which plays an important part in not just spiritual growth of its people but offers humanitarian service in education, health, relief, youth and women empowerment and infrastructure. Besides that, the ancestors and elderly still guide community decisions with their age-old wisdom. An old woman from a remote village Rangkhung(Langkhong) Part-1 said, “I can identify which tribe a person, be it a woman or a man, comes from by their smell. Each has its own diet and smell.”

In the hill district of Noney where several tribal communities live, that which has experienced decades of armed conflict but is naturally endowed, menstrual hygiene is possible only if the government of Manipur makes pucca roads connecting villages to district headquarters, organizes public transport like minibuses or autos, builds water reservoirs and water treatment and distribution mechanisms, hydel projects in either Noney or Tamenglong to address electricity deficit, assesses the affordability and quality of available sanitary napkins and encourages safe products for its young girls and women.

Noney(Longmai) khou gong louna kagan gansak aniu goi le bam incham louna aniu tong rianra khatni kalam thai lou the. Thuanku the.

For any query or discussion you can reach me at urmila.chanam@gmail.com or urmila.chanam@yahoo.com

Visit our website at http://breakingthesilencereddroplets.com/

Comments 11

Log in or register to post comments
Tarke Edith
Jun 06, 2018
Jun 06, 2018

Hi sister

Tarke Edith
Jun 12, 2018
Jun 12, 2018

Hi sister thank you for putting up this story of women sufering from basic necessities. I hope that with your voice, the goverment will see into their problem. Keep on with this good initiative.

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

My sister the government has a thick hide and truth is unable to penetrate through it. The common man is the one who reads the newspapers and articles like mine and they are the only ones who have some reaction while the government and those in authority who can change the situation turn a blind eye. But hope is what we can work with and I am still working on pursuing this. Thanks for reading.

Love and prayers,
Urmila Chanam
India

Olutosin
Jun 06, 2018
Jun 06, 2018

Well done dear Angel sister. You are doing an amazing job. May you remain blessed forever. I try not to ask but I can't keep silent. Is the government dead to these communities? We have some communities like these ones here too. Sad that our government has failed many people

Please keep on Educating rural communities.

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Dear Olutosin, Government is made of people who have sold their soul. Either we bring the dead alive or we infuse inspiration. Which will work? I can tell the right answer at the end of my journey. Thank you for standing with me in this merry go round.

Love always
Urmila Chanam

Tumanjong Miranda
Jun 06, 2018
Jun 06, 2018

Reading your story brought me to tears. I can't imagine going for 4hours with the same pad, but there are people out there who do not even know or can they even afford this pads. God help!
I pray that may your voice be heard and the government come to the aid of the people of Noney. The woman is the foundation and pillar of the society, and her health matters a lot.
Don't give up on the fight.
Thanks for sharing your story Urmila

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Sister, people are not as privileged and poverty and homelessness have many horrid faces. Human suffering has so many degrees. A woman is the wealth the world needs now. Let us keep using our voice to inform, inspire and guide our governments.

Prayers
Urmila Chanam

Sera Sakwe
Jun 18, 2018
Jun 18, 2018

My beloved sister Urmila, I pray God see that community through..
Health comes first in every humans' life.. It is so painful to hear or see a fellow woman going through hygienic difficulties especially as menstruation is concerned.... May God continue to protect them while the government do something

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Sister, every good thing we do has a ripple effect, sometimes we see it sometimes we don't. We just need to be patient and see these ripples comes together to bring change.

Love
Urmila Chanam

Beth Lacey
Dec 21, 2018
Dec 21, 2018

You are doing such powerful work.
Beth

Urmila Chanam
Jun 13
Jun 13

Dear sister Beth,
Thank you for supporting me with your trust. This is how we will march ahead together.
Love always
Urmila Chanam