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World Toilet Day to Focus on Feminine Hygiene Management

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 12 2012 (IPS) - World Toilet Day, which is commemorated on November 19, will culminate with a 50-day long advocacy march across India for the Nirmal Bharat Great WASH Yatra, focusing on the emerging issue of “menstrual hygiene management”.

This is a little-discussed, often a taboo topic in India and other parts of the developing world, says the Geneva-based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), which is arranging and supporting both the World Toilet Day and the Yatra.

The Yatra is taking place in India but sanitation and hygiene is a global problem. It causes diarrhoea, which is estimated to cause 1.5 million child deaths per year, constituting about 15% of total child deaths under five in developing countries.

On the other hand, the Disease Control Priorities in Development Countries (DCPP) project noted that hygiene promotion to prevent diarrhoea is the most cost-effective health intervention in the world.

According to WSSCC, young girls and women menstruate on average close to 3,000 days over a lifetime, or nearly 10 years of their lives. However, shockingly few are able to manage this natural monthly biological occurrence without shame and pain.

At the same time, more than 300 million women and girls in India use unsanitary material such as old rags, husks, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspapers every month to try and contain the flow of menstrual blood, because they don’t have access to essential sanitary products and facilities during this time.

According to a press release, about 23 % of girls in India leave school when they start menstruating and the remaining female students on average miss 5 days a month of school between ages of 12 and 18.

By the time the Yatra ends, evidence from over 2,000 menstrual hygiene focus groups across the country will feed into findings to present to decision-makers by WSSCC to help bring this issue out of the dark.

Lack of adequate sanitation is a huge problem in India and the world. India loses approximately $53.8 billion (>6.4% of India’s GDP) due to increased health costs, productivity losses, and reduced tourism revenue due to inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, the press release said.

The Yatra is using sports (major cricket stars) and Bollywood-style dance contests to spread messages. It builds upon India’s strong tradition of civic activism and is a major opportunity to make it possible to talk about dignity, hygiene and health, rights, gender, safe and private facilities, affordable and safe sanitary pad use and disposal, and more.


Thorsten Kiefer, Executive Director of WASH United, says: “We have looked at the things Indians really are passionate and excited about and transposed them into a sanitation and hygiene context. What we are trying to do with the Yatra is to make toilets and hygiene cool and sexy.”


Nirat Bhatnagar, principal at Quicksand, adds that “the Yatra represents a totally new approach to sanitation and hygiene campaigning in India in that it fully focuses on fun, positive messaging and super star role models. Basically, the Yatra is re-inventing toilet talk!”


Reflecting the great need to address India’s massive sanitation and hygiene crisis, the Yatra will see a high degree of involvement from the Minister of Drinking Water & Sanitation, Jairam Ramesh, and the Chief Ministers of several states.


The Yatra works in close collaboration with the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA), a government subsidization and awareness program that makes toilets affordable for poor and marginalized Indians.


The Yatra’s key messages pertaining to toilet use, handwashing with soap and MHM will supplement the NBA’s emphasis on prioritizing household spending on sanitation.


In addition, the Yatra will enjoy the support of some of India’s biggest cricket heroes, as well as major Bollywood stars. Nirat Bhatnagar says: “Cricket stars and Bollywood actors are among the most powerful role models in India.


The Yatra is a unique opportunity for celebrities to use their fame to help tackle one of the most pertinent social issues of our country in a fun and positive fashion. We invite everybody to come on board and help us build a popular movement for sanitation and hygiene in India.”


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