Campaign Update

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

Urmila Chanam
Posted June 5, 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?
Primary Health Center in this hill district has majority women patients; don't the men get sick at all? (1/2)

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/

Note: This article was published in the People's Chronicle the largest English newspaper in Manipur state in India and Youth Ki Awaaz India's largest youth platform and was developed as a recommendation to the Government of India and Government of Manipur from the field experience of Breaking the Silence, a campaign focused on educating girls and women on menstrual hygiene and health.

How many people have you impacted since your last update?

800

Comments 28

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Tata Traoré-Rogers
Jun 05, 2018
Jun 05, 2018

Hi Urmila,

I have seen this issue raised in many parts of Africa as well. I know that in Rwanda they wanted to decrease the cost of pads by having them fabricated locally using banana leaves. They also talked about how many girls missed school because of issues related to menstruation and the cost of resources to address this. It is interesting that in NYC when I worked in women shelters the biggest issue was finding sanitary pads when one is homeless. Richest country in the world but women with no access to basic hygiene needs.I think it worth a lot of attention. 

I support your cause and offer Manifesta as a resource to amplify the issue if needed.

Urmila Chanam
Jun 05, 2018
Jun 05, 2018

Thanks Tata Traore-Rogers for your inputs they are very true. Even an advanced country like the US may still have challenges in terms of accessing sanitary napkins in different situations like a relief camp, transit, rehabilitation centers, institutions for the disability groups and so on. Low cost sanitary pads have really picked up in India in different pockets but remain constrained in distribution as NGOs or small scale industry is leading this movement. Additionally these low cost pads do not offer great absorbency or feel good factor as found by users so I am not sure about how popular they are. There was a news item where rural women in India were not satisfied with low cost pads manufactured by Jayshree Industries/ Padman fame because they were not good quality. In the wake of reducing prices its important to not compromise on quality. Thank you sister for reading my post I have enjoyed this discussion.

Love always

Urmila Chanam

India

urmila.chanam@yahoo.com

jlanghus
Jun 06, 2018
Jun 06, 2018

Hi Urmila. Could they build educational centers for these women to help educate them and offer other services? What about having a midwife or doula available them to as part of the public health service for the women that are really far from the hospitals?

Urmila Chanam
Jun 07, 2018
Jun 07, 2018

My dear the government has not even built roads in this hilly district and pregnant women who live up in the hills away from the Primary Health Center in remote villages cannot even go to the hospital for delivery and power cuts last for days. Will this government have the will to care for what happens to women's knowledge levels on their health? My answer is no. Corruption in the government from leadership levels to implementation is so high that I found great guidelines and programs envisioned by the government of India never really take off on ground. The midwife is available she is one lone women or  handful for a large population and overburdened with responsibilities. The solution is sensitization of government ministries on ground truth, partnership with community to work with the government in implementation, social audit and community engagement. Thanks for reading my post my sister Jlanghus.

Love and hugs

Urmila Chanam

jlanghus
Jun 09, 2018
Jun 09, 2018

Yes, it's a real problem:( But you must see hope or a path, or you wouldn't bother trying to improve the situation, right? Yes, so more midwives are needed at the very least. Okay, well, hang in there. At least the women, and some men are happy to see you, so that's good, i.e., there isn't loads of resistance and they see there needs to be change for a happier/healthier future.

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Jun 07, 2018
Jun 07, 2018

Hello, Urmila,

Just this week I suffer stiffness and fatigue on my shoulders and neck due my baby's restlessness caused by a fever. I really sympathize just reading how women in Noney carry heavy baskets on their heads while walking for miles,  leading to their physical pains, and affecting their menstrual periods. Heartbreaking!

Thank you for listening to their challenges and for bringing them out for the world's, not just in India, attention.

Urmila Chanam
Jun 07, 2018
Jun 07, 2018

Dear sister, It is true that only a woman understands a woman. I wish a woman ran Manipur state instead of a man. But will a woman in a political position understand the plight of poor women is another debate altogether. The roles shoved off on a woman of the household is insane and the help she receives from other family members to accomplish them is even more insane. I feel angry to see women suffer in Noney and no government program is even looking at it. Get well soon my sister.

Love

Urmila Chanam

Ndimofor Aretas
Jun 07, 2018
Jun 07, 2018

Hello Urmila, you are doing a marvelous impact by making sure that these community challenges come to the notice of the authorities and other competent quarters.  Like Tata Troare rightly pointed out in his comment, the challenges you sited in the article are also very common in many African communities and that is why I am very impressed by the level of work done by the Breaking the silence campaign.

Keep up the great work.

Urmila Chanam
Jun 07, 2018
Jun 07, 2018

Dear Ndimofor Aretas,

I believe its the plight of people in the developing countries. What is most surprising is the unequal distribution of wealth, food, infrastructure, health and social welfare services and facility. It is not as if the country is poor but use of resources deferentially that moves me to keep trying to voice my findings to the government. I have worked in Tanzania and Uganda and very soon will be working in Nigeria so I am aware of sufferings there as well. Thanks a lot for reading my post and sharing your thoughts.

Love always

Urmila Chanam

India

urmila.chanam@yahoo.com

Obisakin Busayo
Jun 09, 2018
Jun 09, 2018

Dear Urmila

This is a great job you are doing among the women, thank you for being there for them and educate them on how they take good care of themselves during mensuration. keep breaking the silence my sister!

Urmila Chanam
Sep 26, 2018
Sep 26, 2018

Dear sister Busayo,

Thanks my precious sister, you are my strength.

Love and hugs,

Urmila Chanam

nelsa nabila
Jun 10, 2018
Jun 10, 2018

Hi Urmila, 

I just recently concluded with a campaign on menstrual hygiene awareness in some local communities in Cameroon and I understand the hardwork patience  and love you've put in to realise this campaign. Menstraution is an aspect that has been neglected. What a great work you are doing sister. Keep impacting sister keep breaking the odds. We are behind you.

Urmila Chanam
Sep 26, 2018
Sep 26, 2018

Dear Nelsa,

I am happy to learn of your efforts too. I want to share with you that the root cause of menstrual hygiene and struggle to achieve it in India lies in gender inequality in our homes, relationships, communities and schools. If it were the boys and men who menstruated most of the associated problems would not have existed. I wish you all the best my sister and feel free to reach out for help and discussion.

Love and hugs

Urmila Chanam

AGNES TUMASANG
Jun 12, 2018
Jun 12, 2018

DEAR THANKS FOR RAISING THIS IDEA WHICH IS ALSO A BIG PROBLEM ON MY COUNTRY AND WE ALL HOPE THAT SOME ONE SOME WHERE IS LISTING TO US.

Urmila Chanam
Jun 12, 2018
Jun 12, 2018

Dear Agnes,

Someone told me just yesterday that unless we demand and use our collective voice, who will give us our entitlement. How true! We do not have control over corrupt politicians and government officials who are in charge of utilizing government funds meant for development but we can 'ASK' our needs again and again using different medium and platforms. We can hope to be heard. I wish you all the best my sister.

Love always,

Urmila Chanam,

India

urmila.chanam2yahoo.com

AGNES TUMASANG
Jun 12, 2018
Jun 12, 2018

Oh dear how i enjoy your comment and wish i could get to you i would have giving you virgin coconut oil that will help your neck

AGNES TUMASANG
Jun 12, 2018
Jun 12, 2018

Hi, i like you effort so much we are facing such a situation and will be grad if you can share how they are done with me.

Urmila Chanam
Jun 12, 2018
Jun 12, 2018

Dear Agnes,

Thanks for the virgin coconut oil :) I will try that here if it helps stiff neck and back. For the approach I use, please refer to my campaign updates on World Pulse and I have tried to share them so that you and sisters in our global sisterhood can use them for their own programs. Let us keep sharing. Let us keep writing.

Love from India

Urmila Chanam

urmila.chanam@yahoo.com

Beth Lacey
Jun 13, 2018
Jun 13, 2018

Thank you for sharing

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

I am happy it was significant to you, sister.

coolasas
Jun 13, 2018
Jun 13, 2018

Hi Urmila, 

Interesting how basic needs are deprived of this village. But your story brought me back to when I started to have my period. I did not tell my mom or aunt not because I didn't know any better but because if I told them, they would keep me from playing outside and jumping over fences. Once they did find out (after finding soiled undergarments in the trash bin) the ritual of what to do followed and a lot of other advice and a curfew was imposed. It was funny thinking about it now, at how traditional we are a generation ago but thinking about it now, I am not sure how much advanced we are as a community in the subject of menstruation. We have remote villages up in the mountains and girls not going to school; I wonder if the subject of menstruation and hygiene are discussed at home. Maybe I should find out? 

Anyway, your organization and groups of women are making this subject real - the concerns and the solutions to problems though complicated are real and hopefully people especially young girls respond to it and eventually advocate for the others in their community. 

Good luck always! 

Coolasas

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Dear Coolasas,

I am afraid times have not changed much. The national data shows that 82% of India's girls and women who are menstruating face some kind of restriction in food, social activity, religious activity and so on. 70% of mothers believe menstruation is dirty. So not much has changed, requiring lot more awareness to be generated. Thank you for your warm wishes.

Love always

Urmila Chanam

Tamarack Verrall
Jun 23, 2018
Jun 23, 2018

Dear Urmila,

The work that you and many WorldPulse sisters are doing to make sure that change comes to people in outlying regions and small villages is among the most important work of all. I hope that together we can form a global pressure on Governments to end these stark inequities and address poverty and lack of infrastructure everywhere. Your bold work is creating change, a blueprint for us all.

Much love,

Tam

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Dear sister darling Tamarack,

You are so right that together we are working to bring positive change and what matters is peace among ourselves because unless there is peace, tolerance, understanding and unity even in the face of disagreement, we can stand as a formidable force.Now the government is looking at women representatives for ideas, inclusion, leading programs because gradually sensitization is reaching the government( in differing degrees) that women need to be IN THE SYSTEM TO RUN THE SYSTEM. Now is the opportune time to take action sister and together we are far better than on our own.

Much love always

Urmila Chanam

India

urmila.chanam@gmail.com

annadassa
Jul 03, 2018
Jul 03, 2018

Urmila,

While homeless myself in my home Country Curacao and the USA I was faced with the same issue. Lack of financial resource can put you in difficult situations that being able to buy sanitary pads becomes the last option on your list. Thanks again for sharing!

annadasa

Urmila Chanam
Jul 06, 2018
Jul 06, 2018

Dear Annadasa,

I agree with you, when money is an issue food, clothing and shelter takes precedence. You did the right thing by having your priorities in the right order. The good news is that cloth is as good as a sanitary pad if you wash it and sun dry it. Thanks for reading my sister and presenting a context which should not be forgotten when organizations are planning for reaching girls and women.

Love and hugs from India

Urmila Chanam

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Sep 25, 2018
Sep 25, 2018

Hello Urmila,

What about using an asset-based citizen-led community development approach to develop solutions to enhance the lives of women and girls and men and boys in such rural communities which governments are leaving behind. Too often we see persons in such communities as having no skills, talents, abilities or assets. Engaging in an appreciative dialogue, community and asset mapping and deliberative dialogue using participatory approaches to develop sustainable solutions. Such examples as Training women within the village to become midwives, pooling resources to build a small medical clinic, developing an education program for girls and women and making it part of the curriculum, monthly consciousness-raising circles for the community especially for women and girls.

Looking at the assets in the community which can be developed into a small business to benefit the development of the community. While the government has an integral role to play citizens ought to be educated to become active citizens, when governments realise that citizens are working making things happen I have seen where they then decide to come in and this is due to many factors. 

Continue the wonderful work my sister. 

Urmila Chanam
Sep 26, 2018
Sep 26, 2018

Dear sister,

I love your idea of asset building and skill mapping, the exercise itself will give such confidence and encourage them to look inwards to the scope of doing things on their own than to the government. I will certainly like to incorporate this in my work only that I have too many regions far placed and not enough resource to pursue a long line of follow ups. Thanks my dear for your ideas and nurturing.

Love always

Urmila Chanam

India