A critique of development-as-growth in the context of menstruation in rural India. Co-creating desirable futures with stakeholder engagement.

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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P1 OPINNÄYTTEET D 2019 Nadig Surendra
Degree programme
Creative Sustainability
The prevailing climate crisis points to the pressing need to preserve the fragile and irreplaceable ecosystems of our planet. A critique of development-as-growth in the context of menstruation in rural India is a case study situated in the rural village of Spiti Valley, India. The ecological significance of the region makes menstrual health management a critical case of modernization, to observe and study the environmental impacts and consequences with regard to use and disposal of sanitary pads. The thesis adopts an ethnographic, qualitative research approach and utilizes ethnographic methodologies to outline a process of observation, question, hypothesis, intervention and findings. It touches upon critique of existing ‘forced modernization’ in conditions of incomplete education regarding the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and waste management, coupled with geographical diversity, specific socio-political and cultural factors (such as religious restrictions and social taboos). It is then extrapolated into a scale of conditions reflective of the subcontinent – specifically the myth of progress and ‘development-as-growth’ defined by the ability to purchase goods and commodities for everyday life. Through stakeholder mapping, the local women’s struggles with state menstrual policies, accessibility to alternative products highlight the existing structural issues. Interviews of women as well as the local doctors provide key insights into the situation from the locals' perspective which exposes the underlying relationship to women’s health and the ecosystem, the human and the non-human elements, farming and sustenance. These complex adaptive socio-ecological systems are highlighted in this case study. The final stage of the thesis delves into the specific key individuals, collectives, organizations and NGOs (Non-Governmental organizations) within India, and in other parts of the world that are conducting projects, initiating a systemic change. The context of the study was set in rural Himachal Pradesh where a strong sense of community was observed in this region, and it was clear that they have a deep practical and spiritual engagement with their non-human surroundings- the Spiti river, flora and fauna. Focusing on their lifestyle raised many questions regarding increasing impacts of globalisation, rapid urbanisation, tourism and social policy interventions by the government. This inspired me to begin an ethnographic inquiry with the local stakeholders to assess the impact of sanitary pad usage on women’s health, environment and distribution, which is part of the healthcare system and social policy in India. This study is an explorative attempt to address critical environmental and women’s health issues through ethnography and with an outcome through processes with design frameworks such as Product Service Systems and Service design. Findings: The case study illustrates that a designer’s role in creating awareness, communication and including stakeholders in aspects of decision making is crucial.
Berglund, Eeva
Thesis advisor
Öztekin, Elif
ethnography, critique-of-development, menstrual health management, agro-pastoral communities, stakeholder engagement, service design
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