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Assam: Himanta Biswa Sarma urged to include sanitary pads in list of flood relief material

A group of women's rights advocates is now sending sanitary pads to state health and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to get his attention

Assam: Himanta Biswa Sarma urged to include sanitary pads in list of flood relief material

Sentinel Digital Desk

Guwahati: As floods and landslides ravage Assam, the state's women's rights activists have come up with a novel idea to draw the state government's attention to the plight of women living in flood relief shelters.

Having raised an online petition on Change.org about the lack of menstrual hygiene products/ sanitary pads at flood relief shelters, a group of women's rights advocates led by activist Mayuri Bhattacharjee is now sending sanitary pads to state health and finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to get his attention.

A 'gift box' containing pads and hygiene kits has been delivered to the minister's office to urge him to include menstrual hygiene products in the list of essential relief materials provided by the government at flood shelters.

Besides the pads, the box contains the following items as a part of a hygiene kit: hand sanitizer, bathing soap, detergent powder, bleaching powder, phenyl, a mosquito coil, a pair of underwear and a face mask.

The 'gift box' for the Government

Mayuri has also urged the nearly 75,000 supporters of her petition to order eco-friendly sanitary pads online and mail them to the minister.

The annual floods have affected lakhs of people across Assam, pushing them to take refuge at flood relief shelters set up by the government.

However, women in these camps end up as the worst sufferers, with no access to menstrual hygiene products.

It is because sanitary napkins/ menstrual hygiene products are not included in the list of essential relief material provided by the government at the flood shelters where lakhs take shelter during the peak of the monsoons.

Mayuri's petition asking the state government to build 50 women-friendly flood relief shelters has been signed by almost 72,000 people and continues to gather momentum.

In fact, last year, the then state Disaster Management Minister Bhabesh Kalita responded to her campaign promising action but later said that "including pads would require a budgetary allocation", which led Mayuri to come up with the idea of sending a gift box containing pads to finance minister Sarma.

The products in the gift box have been specially procured from a local social enterprise called 'The Eco Hub' in Bokakhat (under Golaghat district, one of the districts that has been hit worst by the floods).

"Lakhs of girls and women of Assam are caught in floods every year, and with no access to sanitary pads at flood relief shelters, they face great difficulty dealing with their periods. Some of them are even forced to bleed on their clothes. Thus, women go through a nightmare of unhygienic periods, floods and now even the pandemic," says Mayuri.

"On 15th August, in his Independence Day speech from the Red Fort, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the importance of women's hygiene and sanitary napkins. The Assam government should pay heed to the PM's message and take the lead in building these women-friendly flood relief shelters where women have access to menstrual hygiene products. I am sending this gift box with locally sourced pads to send a message that solutions are available if the government wants to work with citizens like us," she added.

Weighing in, Nida Hasan, Country Director of Change.org India says that the access to menstrual hygiene products is "every woman's right." "For those in distress, like lakhs of flood-affected women in Assam's flood shelters, it becomes even more crucial. It's high time that the state Health and Finance minister of Assam soon figures out the budget and logistics to ensure that sanitary pads are included in the list of essential relief materials for all flood shelters," she adds.

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