By Rhea Arora Jan. 11, 2021
The Period Room, a public toilet in Thane, Maharashtra, targets people who need it the most: slum dwellers. Having a unit of public space dedicated to menstruation is empowering for women whose needs and struggles are otherwise relegated to low-priority, ignored, or rendered invisible.
An unassuming Maharashtra slum has become the subject of media chatter ever since it got a “Period Room”. Installed jointly by Muse Foundation and Thane Municipal Corporation, Lokmanya Nagar’s Period Room is a public toilet that specifically caters to individuals who are menstruating. This first-of-its-kind loo is not only a much-needed health amenity but also a wonderful stigma-battling initiative.
The Indian Express explains that the Period Room includes “a urinal, a jet spray, a toilet roll-holder, soap, running water, hooks to hang clothes and a dustbin to dispose of menstrual waste — rare amenities in public toilets.” The facility is also low-cost at ₹45,000 and will be built in 120 public toilets in the city. For 67 per cent of women in 15 Thane slum areas who don’t have access to clean bathrooms, running water, or garbage disposals, the Period Room will be a huge source of relief.
However, menstruation-related woes are not exclusive to Maharashtra. In states like Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh, girls are forced into isolation in tiny, window-less “period huts” where they must stay while menstruating every month despite being vulnerable to snake bites, pneumonia, and other illnesses. Girls, women, and other menstruating genders across the country are barred from cooking food, entering temples or kitchens, touching holy books, and eating certain foods while on their period over deep-seated myths of menstruation making a woman polluted and impure. Even Indian advertisements for sanitary napkins euphemistically show period blood as an amorphous blue liquid and market menstrual products as means to keep clothes “clean” and stain-free.
To make matters worse, despite the fact that periods (associated stigma, poor sanitation, and lack of access to health products) are cited as one of the top reasons for Indian girls dropping out of schools, the government has not made scientific sex education mandatory. The Period Room is therefore an example of the kind of public policies India needs to combat the stigma against menstruation.
Having a unit of public space dedicated to menstruation is empowering for women, non-binary, and transgender individuals.
Thane’s Period Room also sits alongside nine other ordinary toilets in the women’s section of a public restroom housed in a building that adorns a beautiful mural. A slogan on the mural reads “Menstrual cycle is a natural process. Tyabaddal lajjaspad ase kahihi nahi (There is nothing shameful about it).” The conspicuous, almost celebratory design of public space dedicated to menstruation is an important aspect of the project. The building’s colourful wall invites the gaze of passersby who end up acknowledging that menstruation is a natural, biological concept – one so normal that you could encounter it on your evening walk around the neighbourhood.
The Period Room targets people who need it the most: slum dwellers. The women of Lokmanya Nagar now have a private area to change their clothes and use menstrual products without being conscious of onlookers in packed shanties. Having a unit of public space dedicated to menstruation is empowering for women, non-binary, and transgender individuals whose needs and struggles are otherwise relegated to low-priority, ignored, or rendered invisible.
While it may take time for menstruating individuals in and around Lokmanya Nagar to regularly use the Period Room, Muse Foundation and Thane Municipal Corporation show how women’s health can and should be at the forefront of development in India.
Rhea Arora is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. She has previously worked as an editor for The Times of India and her reports have been published in The Hindu, Qrius, and Homegrown. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @rheaaroraa