March 9, 2021 4:30:47 am
In a public interest litigation (PIL) filed before the Gujarat High Court in the aftermath of 68 girls in a hostel of Shree Sahjanand Girls Institute in Bhuj town of Kutch were paraded through the college into the restroom and forced to remove their undergarments to prove that they were not menstruating in February 2020, a division bench proposed a set of guidelines that the state should follow.
The bench issued notice to the state and union governments as well as Sahajanand Girls Institute and Nar Narayan Dev sansthan in Ahmedabad (Swaminarayan sect of Bhuj that runs the college). The bench has also sought the opinion of state and centre on the court’s proposed set of guidelines.
The nine-point guidelines as proposed by the bench headed by Justice J B Pardiwala have sought for prohibition of social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status at all places, be it private or public, religious or educational. The bench also proposed that the state government should spread awareness among various strata of citizens, including healthworkers, adolescents, parents and other such stakeholders, regarding social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status through various mediums like putting up posters at public places, including it in school curriculum, using audio visual mediums like radio, entertainment or news channels, short films etc with a strategy aimed at raising the awareness among the adolescent girls related to menstrual health and hygiene.
The court also proposed for sensitization of health workers, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Anganwadi Workers pertaining to the biological process involved in menstruation biology “so that they can further disseminate this knowledge in the community and mobilize social support against busting menstruation related myths.” Adolescent Friendly Health Services Clinics must also have trained manpower to address these issues, the court suggested along with advising the state government to hold campaigns, drives, to involve NGOs and other private organizations to spread awareness while also including the issue of social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in all existing campaigns/schemes that aims at menstrual hygiene.
To ensure implementation and awareness around menstruation, the court in its proposed guidelines also added that the state government “should allocate necessary funds for the implementation of the directions.”
“Young girls often grow up with limited knowledge of menstruation because their mothers and other women shy away from discussing the issues with them. Adult women may themselves not be aware of the biological facts or good hygienic practices, instead passing on cultural taboos and restrictions to be observed Community based health education campaigns could prove worthwhile in achieving this task. There is also a need to spread awareness among the school teachers regarding menstruation,” the bench observed.
Increasing education status of women plays an important role in improving the health status of the community at large and overcoming the cultural taboos, in particular and thus recommended the government to target this aspect.
“The State Government should prohibit all educational institutions, hostels and living spaces for women-studying working and others, private or public, by whatever name called, from following social exclusion of women on the basis of their menstrual status in any manner…The State Government should undertake surprise checks, create appropriate mechanism and to take such other actions, steps as may be necessary to ensure its compliance including imposition of appropriate penalty against the erring institution,” the bench further noted.
However, before issuing directions, the bench sought response of the state government as well as the central government. “We clarify that the aforesaid is just a prima facie consideration of the issue in question. We are conscious of the fact that we are dealing with a very delicate issue and, therefore, it is necessary for this Court to hear all the respondents and other stakeholders. The aforesaid should not be construed as if this Court has made up its mind one way or the other. A healthy and meaningful debate or deliberations is necessary in the present litigation,” the bench added in its order dated February 26.
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