Dr. Syed Sehrish Asgar’s bio on Twitter reads as follows:
“IAS Officer, Been in the IPS, Was in the KAS for a while, medical doctor by education. Speaker, Writer by passion. Presently serving Budgam as DC.“
She was the first woman from her state to top the Kashmir Administrative Service exam in 2011. Syed Asgar, then 25, became the second Muslim woman from Jammu & Kashmir to clear the All India Civil Services Examination in 2012. Eventually she joined IAS, batch of 2013 and was the first Muslim woman from her state to do it. She is married to Dr. Syed Abid Rasheed Shah, whom she met after joining Batra Medical College in 2003. Both of them qualified as IPS together first, then made it to IAS and got married.
In several interviews, Syed Sehrish Asgar has revealed that along with her father who is a Legislative Council Member himself, she has had very supportive mother, brother, sister, friends and teachers who made it possible for her to realize her dreams. Although being a well trained and qualified doctor, she had this self actualization in college itself that cracking civil services is better way to serve the society on a larger platform rather than only treating individuals at a localized level as a doctor. Her message for female aspirants says, “I want to suggest specially to female aspirants to be patient. This demands lot of hard work along with patience. If you want a miracle be a miracle.”
But why are we talking in particular about this female IAS today? Well, she is Kashmir’s only woman Deputy Commissioner currently posted at Budgam who is going an extra mile for the plights of women in the valley.
The Problem of Menstrual Stigma
Data from Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation shows that in India over 30% of girls drop out of schools by the time they get to class 9 and the number rises to 57% by class 11. Globally, in developing countries it can be seen that the highest percentage of girls dropping out of school happens after they hit puberty. The societal taboo associated with menstruation, lack of access to functional toilets and clean water are some of the primary reasons why the dropout occurs. The current dropout rate in the valley is close to 20%. Last year, 300 girls dropped out of 1200 schools in the particular district of Budgam after the onset of their menstruation.
Syed Sehrish Asgar’s local visit to a girls’ school in the district’s Razwan village confronted her with the stigma associated with menstruation and the adverse consequences faced by the girls due to this on a personal level. Her subsequent visits to many other schools in the valley reiterated this fact. She stressed on the fact how media and people are always engaging in various issues happening in the valley but has ignored such a personal issue. Being a doctor herself, she decided to take this forward.
Staying back at home during periods also affects girls’ participation in sports and other games. Solving the issue of menstrual taboo will indirectly solve these other issues too.
Having open dialogues through awareness sessions and seminars in schools were the first of the many initiatives she implemented to end this stigma. It is only through conversations that girls can realize this is a simple biological process of the body and having regular menses is actually a sign of healthy hormonal balance in the body. There is absolutely no shame in having periods. Also, one should know about the sanitary habits in order to take care of oneself better.
Syed Sehrish Asgar accepts that government does offer various iron supplements for iron deficiencies through many schemes, but most girls are not just aware of it. So, it is very important for them to become aware of all the facts surrounding menstruation. According to WHO, daily iron supplementation is associated with reduced risk of anaemia and iron deficiency in menstruating women and adolescent girls without any side effects.
In her administration, it has been planned to install sanitary pad dispensers and incinerators in 106 out of 147 high and higher secondary schools, five degree colleges and one Industrial Training Institute in the district by 15th July in the first phase. The rest of the schools will be covered in the second phase. Dispensers will also be set up in DC’s office and Srinagar International Airport. All these steps are expected to make girls’ and women’s access to social and public life easier during periods. These would operate at a minimal rate along with Pink Clubs in schools, comprising of one teacher and three students which have been formed to look after the working of these machines.
The current dropout rate in the valley is close to 20%. Last year, 300 girls dropped out of 1200 schools in the particular district of Budgam after the onset of their menstruation.
Last year during the inauguration of Under-19 Girls Inter-School Sports Tournament, Syed Sehrish Asgar asserted that equal participation of girls in all sports related activities is imperative for their overall personality development. Staying back at home during periods also affects girls’ participation in sports and other games. Solving the issue of menstrual taboo will indirectly solve these other issues too.
Interaction with principals of various school has revealed that due to lack of functional toilets, girls are forced to head back home for toilets during lunch and then do not come back for the day. This affects their studies. Although the issue of regular water supply to Budgam still remains a problem owing to its hilly terrain, the problem of dysfunctional toilets in almost 90% of the schools have been already solved. Officials have acknowledged that this has already positively affected the attendance percentage in schools.
Asgar also organized the first ever all woman conclave at the district headquarters this year to address the problems faced by girls during menses. Along with celebrating womanhood, the speakers dealt with the legal rights of women and POSH at workplace. The need of the hour is women empowerment! And it is only possible to empower women by directly addressing the barriers that prevent them from getting empowered rather than ignoring those factors.
In her administration, it has been planned to install sanitary pad dispensers and incinerators in 106 out of 147 high and higher secondary schools, five degree colleges and one Industrial Training Institute in the district
The Way Ahead
The only unfortunate thing Syed Sehrish Asgar mentions is that there are no separate budget allocations for such projects by either the state or central government. She is presently managing the expenses with the help of the funds allocated to the state’s rural development department and Airports Authority of India’s CSR contribution. She hopes that,
“With the support of parents and school and college administration we are hopeful that the dropout rate among girl students will be brought down to zero.”
Asgar rightly says that,
“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.”
We certainly need more feminists in power like her who can empathize with the plight of women and truly empower them.
Featured Image Source: Better India