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Swara Bhaskar On Her First Period, And The Lesson She Remembers Till Date #TeachersDay

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By Swara Bhaskar:

I was 10 years old when my mother went to the USA to pursue a Ph.D at New York University. She was to be away for more than two years, and my brother and I were in the care of our loving and gruff Naval Officer father. A year later we went to visit my mother. After the initial days of basking in maternal love and care passed, my mother took me out to a local food outlet and sat me down, and began, “Swara, I have to talk to you about something. You are a growing girl now. I have to tell you about periods. Do you know what that is?” “Yes,” I replied my mouth full of chicken burger, “Divya’s sister gets it.” “Right…close your mouth when you eat…” said my mother and began the ‘period talk.’ Most of it was the usual mother-daughter conversation about the processes of the body, but my mother kept emphasizing on two things. One, that I may be alone when I get my period, so I should not be embarrassed to ask an adult I trust for help, and two, that it was an entirely natural body process and something I should never be ashamed of.

Swara Bhaskar (2)

I returned to school in Delhi at the end of our summer vacation armed with more toys than I deserved, a hint of an American accent (if you please!) and exact knowledge about the menstrual process. Sure enough, a month later, I happened to go to the bathroom and discovered the tell tale stains in my under-pants. It began a life-long series of experiences proving the idiom ‘Mother is always right!’, but coming back to that fateful girl’s bathroom- I felt a bit shocked. However, I remembered that I was armed with knowledge. But then I felt angry. I didn’t know who I felt angry at, but I felt quite angry and it grew. I thought it was very unfair of God to have unleashed this upon me now, in school, just before the games period. I felt worried that I would no longer be able to play boisterous games, climb trees (not that I was an avid tree climber so I really don’t know why that was a concern) and run about. I wished I had been born a boy. Then I remembered my mother’s words, “Don’t be embarrassed.” She should have added, “Don’t be angry either.”

I braced myself and headed to the staff room. I peaked inside and found my friendly homeroom teacher Sukanya ma’am at her usual place. “Ma’am, I need to talk to you urgently.” The whole group of teachers looked up. “Privately”, I added. “I have got my period”, I announced in one breath when we were alone, “And I don’t have a sanitary napkin.” “Oh!” Sukanya ma’am replied attentive but not flustered. She handed me a five rupee note and said, “Here, go to the medical room and buy a sanitary napkin.” “What should I say?” I asked, worried that this rather public process of dealing with my first period was just not ending. “Just ask for a sanitary napkin.” She said in a matter-of-fact tone, “Don’t be embarrassed. It’s just menstruation, it’s not taboo!” “Oh sure!” I thought and headed to the medical room.

Sanitary napkin procured and worn, I felt better. This was not so bad. I could walk, I seemed normal, and no one seemed to notice. Perhaps despite this business of ‘becoming a woman’ life would not be so bad after all! In Homeroom period I went upto Sukanya ma’am and said, “Ma’am I will be absent for the next two days.” “Why?” She asked surprised.
Because I have got my period.”
So?”
Hmmm…so what?’ I didn’t know myself why I had asked for leave relating it to my period. Was it some unconscious memory of hearing my grandmother narrate tales of her isolation in a room when she got her period as a young girl?
Swara, you will get your period every month for 4-5 days each time for the next 30 years!!! If you start sitting at home during every period, do you know how many absences that will be?? How will you do any work, or anything at all?”
I hadn’t done the math clearly! I looked down sheepishly. Sukanya ma’am switched to a softer tone. “Swara, periods are a very normal and natural part of a woman’s life. All women in the world go through it. It’s a blessing actually that you have it. It shows that you are normal and healthy, and at some point you will be capable of giving birth. Do you know that in many cultures, including in parts of India, the onset of a girl’s period is a cause of celebration in the family and community?” (I instantly thanked God I wasn’t born in any of those cultures. A period party! Really? I definitely was not prepared for that.)

Sukanya ma’am continued, “You believe that girls are equal to boys right?” I nodded my head in affirmation fiercely. “Then don’t let periods stop you from leading a normal day. Reach your fullest capabilities, be unstoppable. And don’t you dare try to bunk school or classes claiming period troubles in the future.” I grinned and turned to leave. “Swara”, she called out. “And if people say things like you are polluted during your periods, you must eat from a different plate, don’t touch the pickle else it will go bad and things like that, don’t believe it. It’s all superstition.”
Really?” I asked.
Yes! Try it and see. Touch the pickle.”
I stuck my finger into a bowl of pickle that evening. It didn’t go bad.

A teacher plays an important role in a student’s life, especially during menstruation when girls are scared, and shy away from discussing this even with their teachers. The Whisper Touch The Pickle Movement was in a way a great eye opener, students should not only break free from the taboo of not saying the word ‘periods’ but also, should stop shying away from discussing it. Girls should confide in their teachers, and teachers should encourage girls to talk freely with them about menstruation.

Happy Teachers Day Sukanya Ma’am! Thank you for that valuable lesson.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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