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How A Group Of Girls In Mumbai Is Breaking Menstrual Taboos And The Silence

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By Reetika Subramanian:

As the sound of the afternoon prayers begins to fade away, mats are rolled out in the inner room of Rehnuma Library Centre in Mumbra. The echoes of giggles from the room begin to get louder as young girls arrive at its doorstep.

While Zarin preps for asking “comfortable questions”, Khushbu sits in one corner, ready to take down observatory notes. Rehenaz, on the other hand, quickly scans through a pile of sheets that have notes on ‘taboos’, ‘menstrual healthcare’ and ‘myths’ scribbled on them. The young girls are gearing up for their first focus group discussion as a part of the Youth Movement for Active Citizenship (YMAC) fellowship program.


The year-long project, which was initiated in July 2014, has motivated this group of women to undertake research on the existing knowledge and perceptions about menstruation amongst women in Mumbra. At present, they are in the dissemination phase of the project, wherein they are conducting awareness workshops based on their study. Their findings bear testimony to the silences fostered in the neighbourhood with regards to the monthly cycles. According to data collected by them, nearly 50% of the women surveyed were completely unaware of the very existence of menstrual cycles until they first spotted blood stains on their skirts as adolescents. “Some girls thought that they had accidentally cut themselves or ended up with a broken boil,” says Rehenaz. “There were a few others, who actually thought that they had cancer.”

“The women here are very afraid to express their pain and fears. They do not have adequate agency and spaces to do so,” says Zarin, adding, “menstruation, in particular, is considered to be a very contentious subject that is never spoken about.” The group of girls includes students, school drop-outs and employees alike. They decided to question and unearth these silences. Backed by skill-based training, the young cohort channelled their inner researchers to undertake literature review, field research, and evaluate their findings to publish in a bound report, which is now helping them in generating awareness.

Another interesting finding that further reiterates the silences in this suburb includes the number of women using cloth instead of sanitary napkins.

The reason?

They were afraid or uncomfortable to go to the chemist shop and ask the salesman for a packet of sanitary napkins. “Some of them revealed that they wrote it down on paper chits to show it to the shopkeeper. In certain cases, they would also return home if all the salespersons were men,” says Khushbu. Hence, they decided to work on the subject of taboos and health problems associated with menstruation drawing upon their own individual experiences.

“We are all expected to follow a certain diktat at home when it is that time of the month. We are told to stay away from pickles, potted plants, and not partake in household chores,” rues Rehenaz, a class 12 pass out. “However, most of us were unaware of the logical reasoning behind it. None of us had questioned – or for that matter – even discussed these beliefs,” she adds.


As the clock begins to tick, a large group of girls begin to sit on the rolled out mats. These girls, who are affiliated to the Rehnuma Library Centre, are the chosen respondents for the Focus Group Discussion. “Since we share a rapport with the young girls affiliated with the centre, we felt that it would be easier for us to initiate a conversation with them on a subject that is silenced from everyday life,” says Lubna.

Seated in a semi-circle, the young female respondents are first asked about their understanding of menstruation. While some women feel awkward and continue to remain silent, a few begin to warm up to the discussion. “I get to know that my mother has got her monthly period only when she complains of stomach cramps and doesn’t chant her daily prayer,” says one of the girls seated in the corner. “We don’t really mention it to anyone,” adds another.

In the next few minutes, the decibel levels in the room soar.

“Is it true that the body produces chemicals that can cause pickles to get spoiled?”

“I get my period only once in three months. Is it normal?”

“Is it hygienic to use cloth instead of sanitary napkins?”

The fellows patiently respond to the queries or at least, share their own experiences with the young lot. “Make sure you use only sanitary napkins. Keep yourself well hydrated and eat nutritious food. In case of any irregularities, do visit a gynaecologist,” the young fellows explain from the knowledge that they have gained through the workshops, interviews, and literature they were provided as part of the program.

“Do not blindly follow these myths. Question them, and seek a logical reasoning behind them,” they echo.

The questions and personal experiences tone down the once audible silence in the room. The room, they hope, will soon reflect the world that lies outside its four walls.

Note: This post was originally published here.

You must be to comment.
  1. anjali

    Yes, its true that still girls feel ashamed to ask for sanitary pads at the market..but I think its high time for girls to come out of their feelings of being ashamed or guilty..
    Its the need of ours to come out of homes and ask for whats need..there’s nothing to feel ashamed of this.

  2. ABs

    This is a good discussion. For once, proper discussions are being held. Menstrual health is important, and is nothing to be ashamed about. Much like the male body excretes Androgens in the urine, and through Sweat, the female body also has a menstrual cycle to ensure that the unused Egg cell, along with the Endometrial Wall, which are unnecessary if the Woman is not pregnant, are removed.

    There is nothing to be ashamed about in asking for Sanitary Pads at a chemist’s, they don’t judge anyone, as they are men and women of medicine.

    I must thank the women for their good work, being a man, I feel confused by the entire stigma of the Menstruation thing. Good luck!

  3. girly

    i don’t think such myths shud be followed . this is a biological process which we girls have not asked for… wen this time is on people treat us as untouchables .in many houses gals r not allowed to sleep on beds ..afterb so much of pain this stupid mental torture also has to be faced

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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