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Women and Ma Ganga: Issues and Challenges

Many challenges presented by the pollution of the Ganges disproportionately affect Indian women. Impoverished Indian women are the single group that work most closely with the river in their day to day activities, such as bathing, clothes washing, and small scale agriculture. The relative lack in effective sewage systems in parts of India makes these processes more difficult and dangerous, via sickness caused by fecal coliform, as well as cancer causing chemicals. As climate change and pollution damage Ma Ganga, resources collected and cultivated by women are becoming scarce. In these situations, women are often forced to sacrifice their own diet and health for their family. On top of this, in some rural areas Indian women must also reckon with sewage system issues embodied by a lack of functional and private toilets, which create additional safety and privacy challenges. In these areas, women often have to relieve themselves out in the open. This exposes them to anything from bullying and harassment to sexual assault. 


 Stigma and misunderstanding around menstruation is one of the key causes for discrimination against Indian women and girls. This experience is reported by Indian women across all socioeconomic levels. There is currently an effort to provide health and hygiene education for women in rural areas along with feminine hygiene products. This is to address the problems of the lack of women's hygiene education, low levels of access to feminine hygiene products, and stigma around menstruation itself, even from family members. These three factors generally have led to a reduction in mobility and agency for Indian women. 

Women and Ma Ganga: Programs and Policies in Place

Despite domestic and international efforts to improve the conditions of women in India, there is still progress to be made. The governments of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, in which many women are employed in the garment and sugar cane industries, respectively, are beginning to acknowledge the particular challenges women face in their work. Primarily, these challenges stem from brutal workplace policies around menstruation, such as mandatory fines for missing work due to period pain. Additionally, the national government has passed many legislative acts aimed at gender equality, one of the most recent being the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. In general though, legislation by the Indian government does not seem to be improving women's wellbeing in the workplace. From 2005-6 to 2015-16, female workforce participation in India dropped almost 10%. Some aspects of menstrual health in India are improving. The national government recently built 110 million toilets, allowing many more Indian women more privacy and convenience in dealing with their periods. Though these toilets are sometimes poorly maintained and unhygienic, they are nevertheless an improvement. Alternative toilets, like the incinerating Sunidhi toilet, are also beginning to provide women with more privacy and hygiene. The status of women in India is a complicated issue, which varies heavily from area to area. This challenge and the policies in place to work towards solving it cannot always be generalized or applied broadly. Cooperation from all levels of Indian government will be needed to improve the conditions of Indian women, and action by governmental bodies must be informed by the experiences of these women.

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Credit: International Water Management Institute

What can Individuals and Communities do?



This webpage written by: Samuel Weinstein Zimbel

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