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Supreme Court urges all states to send their menstrual hygiene policies to Union Govt


New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked all state governments to send their menstrual hygiene policies to the Union Government within a period of four weeks. The court also asked the Centre to engage all states to see that a uniform national policy is implemented relating to sanitary pads for school-going girls.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud remarked that the petitioner raised an important issue of public interest bearing on the need for menstrual hygiene of girls who are studying in schools. Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, urged the court that all states and UTs may be directed to submit their menstrual hygiene management strategies and plans which are being executed either with the help of funds provided by the central government or their own funds, to the Mission Steering Group (MSG) of the National Health Mission (NHM) within a period of 4-6 weeks.

The mission steering group can re-evaluate the national guidelines based on experiential learning of the last ten-plus years. Centre’s response came on a plea seeking to issue directions to governments to provide free sanitary pads to girls studying in Classes 6 to 12. Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati also urged the top court that all states and UTs be directed to notify the appropriate ratio of girls’ toilets for residential and non-residential schools in their respective territories.

Centre also apprised the court about its proposal to direct all states and UTs to make provisions for ensuring the availability of quality low-cost sanitary pads, and vending machines in schools. All States and UTs may further be directed to ensure that a disposal mechanism is available for schools/school complexes having girls’ enrollment in upper-primary/Secondary/Higher Secondary classes for safe disposal of sanitary pads. Taking note of the importance of the matter, the court issued various directions including one that all states should send the Union their menstrual hygiene policies within a period of 4 weeks and to ensure low-cost sanitary napkins and safe disposal mechanisms. The court nominated the secretary of the health ministry to facilitate the process.

The court has sought an updated status report to be placed before it by the union government in three months. The court was hearing a plea seeking to issue directions to governments to provide free sanitary pads to girls studying in Classes 6 to 12. The plea has been moved by social activist Jaya Thakur through advocates Varinder Kumar Sharma and Varun Thakur. The petitioner said that serious difficulty is faced by adolescent females between the ages of 11 and 18 years coming from poor backgrounds. ‘These are adolescent females who are not equipped with and are also not educated by their parents about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. The deprived economic status and illiteracy leads to the prevalence of unhygienic and unhealthy practices which has serious health consequences; increases obstinacy and leads to eventual dropping out from schools’, the petitioner said.

Henceforth, in the plea, the petitioner has sought to issue directions to provide the separate girl toilet in all government, government-aided and residential schools and to issue directions to provide one cleaner in all government, government-aided and residential schools to clean the toilets. The plea also sought to issue a writ order or directions in the nature of mandamus to the respondents to provide a three-stage awareness programme that is spreading awareness about menstrual health and unboxing the taboos that surround it; secondly, providing adequate sanitation facilities and subsidised or free sanitary products to women and young students, especially in disadvantaged areas; thirdly, to ensure an efficient and sanitary manner of menstrual waste disposal.

In India, the right to health derives from the Directive Principles of State Policy and is an established right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life and dignity, the petition said. The ability to manage menstruation in a hygienic manner is fundamental to the dignity and well-being of women, especially in a democratic society. It constitutes an integral component of basic hygiene, sanitation, and reproductive health services. Inadequate menstrual hygiene management compromises girls’ education, health, and well-being. Therefore, efforts to address these inadequacies must involve the provision of sanitation and hygiene facilities along with creating an enabling social and physical environment that addresses all menstruation-related needs, the petition said.



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