Menstrual Hygiene of Sex Workers in India

Whether the role of sex workers in a democratic state is morally abhorrent or not is the question of perspective which cannot be changed by the statement of facts from me or any other person. What I am here is to provoke a thought, whether the sex workers in India pertaining to their role in the development in the society can or cannot be provided correct menstrual hygiene and respect, which in retrospect should not even be a question to begin with.
As per a research conducted in India, data from 138 studies involving 193 subpopulations and 97,070 girls were extracted. In 88 studies, half of the girls reported being informed prior to menarche. Commercial pad use was more common among urban than rural girls, with use increasing over time. Inappropriate disposal was common. Menstruating girls experienced many restrictions, especially for religious activities. A quarter reported missing school during periods. A lower prevalence of absenteeism was associated with higher commercial pad use in univariate but not in multivariate analysis when adjusted for region. Approximately a third of girls changed their absorbents in school facilities. Half of the girls’ homes had a toilet.
The data is staggering for a nation which claims to have huge reach within the youth. The idea is not to criticise the authority but to start the conversation regarding sensitive issues for women all over India. United Nations (UN) agencies and Commissions have understood and articulated sex work as a contractual arrangement where sexual services are negotiated between consenting adults.2 Most women in general face backlash for even talking openly about menstruation in front of friends or family and are termed indecent labels for the same. When the access to basic facilities such as sanitary napkins or toilets are so scarce, it gets difficult to see the light through the end of the tunnel. The social stigma related to sex workers in India makes it tough for them to get

(1). Menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls in India: a systematic review and meta-analysis,

(2). UNAIDS (2002) Technical Update Sex Work and HIV/AIDS, p3. UNAIDS (2009) Guidance note on HIV and sex work. access to sanitary napkins or hospitality from the people. The sex workers are very much prone to sexually transmitted diseases and other vaginal infections and are more prone to fatal diseases due to the conditions they live in which are sanitary to say the least. According to Ministry of Women and Child Development , there are almost three million female sex workers in India, most of those who are coerced into this profession. Half of girls and women are trafficked from other states and are forced to work as a prostitute. Some are minors, some are misinformed, some are married, some are widowed but what they all have in common is their living conditions and lack of sanitary conditions. The privilege to buy pads openly is considered a taboo and for those who are sex workers is a luxury, they have to use old clothes or cotton rolled up and even dry leaves. The condition of the majority of women in India is worse to say the least and the same is magnified twice for the brothel workers who are marginalized and criticised for their profession. There have been many youtubers who have gone to talk to such women who are working in the brothels, many of those who have aspirations, dreams but have given up their hope for a normal life. The pandemic has brought up the unemployment rate in our country, single parents who are women, female migrant workers, sex workers, etc. were and still are not having acess to sanitary napkins and other sanitary products for use nor are they having enough money. Even if they manage to collect enough money for one month’s supply of pads, they will have to save again to buy it the next month. Now you must think, why save money for that? Right? Because sanitary napkins are very expensive! Surprisingly, women have to pay such high rates for good quality sanitary napkins for a natural phenomenon which happens every month. Living in a country which is culturally rich and feeds on the religious sentiments of its citizens, topics such as menstruation and sanitary conditions of women are not the topics of priority for our welfare state or our conservative society where the word “pad” is hushed at the chemist. So why should you and I talk about these issues? Because it is what is supposed to happen. We must start a conversation for the reasons not to talk about it. Period! It is a normal reaction to talk about issues which are rooted so deep into our society, the solution is to talk them through and

through with these women until a solution comes up, which will not only help the society at par but will also be feasible for them. Hamari Pahchan NGO, based in Delhi, took the initiative to provide underprivileged women with sanitary napkins in various parts of South-Delhi. This initiative was known as the “Sukhad” initiative and since its commencement has received enormous positive responses from various sects of the society. Currently under this project we have aimed to provide these women with “sanitary kits” called “sukhad kits” which includes pads, soaps and envelopes to dispose of the pads. Our aim is to provide at least 50,000 sukhad kits to underprivileged women, promote sanitary conditions and menstruation hygiene. We are also providing the sex workers in parts of Delhi with sanitary napkins and the Sukhad kit, plus, are also informing them about correct sanitation practices which must be followed.
There are many social organizations which are working for the upliftment of women and sex workers specifically, there are some governmental schemes as well, most of which looks very appealing to on paper. The plight of these women often go unnoticed, in the sea of other issues of minute importance. Until there is change in the mindset of people towards sex workers, no amount of social policies can uplift them truly, to change this mindset, a conversation needs to begin. Until there is a change in vision of looking at sex workers as normal woman, there is not going to be true change within the society.
Name: Priyanka Walter
Date: 28/07/2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *