Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Video Producer: Aastha Gulati
Floods are a perennial problem in Assam, displacing thousands and claiming the lives of thousands, too. Beyond the human cost, there is significant damage to infrastructure, to villages that fully submerge in water, and livelihoods that are almost always under threat.
For women, rising water levels is a problem aggravated by menstruation and a lack of hygiene products and separate toilets. I have done a lot of field work in Assam and I found that menstrual health during disasters, especially floods, is a silent need.
Many women told me their horror stories on what they had to face as they did not have access to menstrual products. A very young girl had to bleed into her skirt for hours because she could not find a pad or even a clean piece of cloth.
I decided that, as a citizen, this is a chance to do something for my state and the women of the state. The least I could do is use my privilege of having access to the internet and to digital platforms, and to use them to file a petition on Change.org.
And so, in 2019, I petitioned to the Government of Assam to build 50 women-friendly flood shelters to ensure women have dignity during floods. Sanitary napkins must also be included in the list of relief materials.
I had also asked for gender-segregated toilets in relief camps and provisions for lactating mothers and pregnant women.
Two years later, on 25 May 2021, a notification to all districts from the Revenue and Disaster Management department announced that sanitary napkins will be included in flood relief kits as essential items.
This notifications comes at an apt time as water levels will rise in the rivers due to the onset of monsoons, leading to flooding in surrounding areas. This predictability itself gives the government time to ensure its disaster response is gender-sensitive.
Over the past two years, I have constantly engaged with the government. I would share my suggestions and resources with officials of the Assam State Disaster Management Authority and I am glad they appreciated what I was doing.
Bold Steps to Make My Point
In March 2019, the then Assam State Disaster Management Minister had replied on Change.org that he would act on the petition but for many months after that commitment, nothing happened.
Therefore, around July 2020, I decided to take a bold step to send across the message and also engage positively with government officials so that the cause is expedited.
I sent two boxes of eco-friendly pads as gifts to the health department and to the disaster management authority to point out that it is an essential item for women and there are many eco-friendly products/pads that are manufactured right in our state.
Our ‘gift’ had pads sourced only from manufacturers in Assam and they were all biodegradable.
We had also put cloth pads and menstrual cups to create awareness that there are other kinds of menstrual products available. Luckily, this was taken in a positive spirit.
Through various announcements, I have come to learn that other asks in the petition are also being made available, and the Assam State Disaster Management Authority has been taking steps to make flood relief camps more child-friendly since last year.
I am glad that, through my petition, I could ensure that at least this year, women will have one less thing to worry about during Assam floods.
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