Between all the negative news of stone pelting and insurgency that we keep hearing about, Syed Sehrish Asgar, the only woman Deputy Commissioner in the Kashmir valley is trying to bring about a change in the lives of young girls in the valley. The 33 years old Syed Sehrish Asgar is an IAS from 2013 batch. She was posted in the valley a year ago. Breaking the ice on menstrual hygiene, she also hopes to enhance the understanding on the same.  “One does not become a lesser human being or feel the need to hide from public view or make life-altering compromises for something that’s entirely natural and normal”, said Asgar.

The toilet facilities for female students in the Valley

According to the Headmaster of a local school, Mohammad Yousuf, “a school with roughly 150 students had no toilets. Students who would go home during breaks would often not come back. In the case of girls, it was more difficult since we could not provide the right environment for adolescent girls. Repairing the broken toilets as well as making new toilets for girls is our priority.”

“Toilet facilities in the Budgam’s schools are being repaired and made functional. This is already making a difference in school attendance such as the middle school in Jawalapora”, says Asgar.

With no or extremely poor condition toilets at the school forces these girls to either use toilets at their own house or stay back at home on period days. So it’s important to repair and provide hygienic toilets to these students. “Toilet facilities in the Budgam’s schools are being repaired and made functional. This is already making a difference in school attendance such as the middle school in Jawalapora”, says Asgar.

Asgar’s initiative to bring female students back

The current dropout rate, in the valley, is close to 20 per cent. Last year, out of 1,200 schools in the district 300 girls dropped out when their menstruation began. Asgar aims to change this scenario by breaking the menstrual taboo in the valley.  She ordered all higher secondary girls’ schools and colleges of Budgam district, adjoining Srinagar, to have sanitary napkin dispensers and incinerators installed in them and to construct hygienic toilets for female students. She aims to bring girls who have dropped out for concerns of personal hygiene back to school. Preventing their absence from classrooms due to menstruation issues is her primary focus.

Read Also: #MenstrualHygieneDay: Why Menstrual Hygiene Matters

Managing budget and funds

Unfortunately, there are no separate budget allocations for such projects by the state or central government. But with the help of fund allocated to the state’s rural development department, she manages all the expenses. Assistance from the Airports Authority of India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) contribution also helps a lot.

“We have to try to create a society where women are concerned about their health and hygiene and do not feel ashamed of it. It’s their right to live with dignity, and the stigma around menstruation needs to be addressed. We need structures in our public spaces where they can feel comfortable.”

In an interview with The Indian Express, she said, “All the incinerators and sanitary napkins dispensers will be placed at 106 higher secondary schools, five-degree colleges and one ITI in the district. Also, sanitary napkin dispensers will be placed at the DC’s office as well as at the Srinagar international airport that falls in the district.”

With all the disturbance and security issues we generally ignore the need for basic facilities which lacks in the valley. Asgar says, “We have to try to create a society where women are concerned about their health and hygiene and do not feel ashamed of it. It’s their right to live with dignity, and the stigma around menstruation needs to be addressed. We need structures in our public spaces where they can feel comfortable.”

Divya Tripathi is an intern with SheThepeople.TV

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