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Think Women On Their Period Are ‘Weak’? These Mountaineers Have A Lesson For You

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By Tashi Malik and Nungshi Malik:

Mountaineer twins Tashi and Nungshi Malik explain their menstrual synchrony and share why they are now unafraid of everything, including ‘Touching the Pickle’.

The twins recently dared and successfully completed a challenging and dangerous mission to reach the North and South Poles on skis, (pulling their entire logistics weighing over 135 pounds) on sleds, over extremely rough, uneven ice at average temperatures of minus 24 degree temperatures dipping to minus 35 on some days, covering over 115 kilometres to each pole. They talk about their journey as mountaineers and adventurers, and how they broke social barriers.

There are triggers to success, and then there is a tipping point. For us ‘Doon girls, 24 now with a few minutes separating us, even scaling the tallest peak in the world together wasn’t the tipping point. It took us scaling six more, in six other continents to reach our mission and literally push the stakes of achievement higher. The intriguing part of our story? Our biggest challenges were not the mountains, but mindsets.

As part of our #Mission2for7, which began with a journey to Kilimanjaro in 2012, we successfully reached the top of seven peaks, one each in Asia, Africa, Europe, the two Americas, Papua New Guinea and Antarctica. The expedition was not only to pursue our passion, but to also prove on behalf of girls in our country that every male-dominated field can be toppled over by a woman.

tashi and nungshi
Image source: WordPress

To rewind our tale, let’s say we were battling against odds before even being born. Hailing from Haryana to those not acquainted means that one has to be lucky to be a girl, owing to its female foeticide and infanticide rates, the highest in the country. Not surprisingly, our region, much like the rest of North India, also witnesses widespread sexism and gender violence. We consider ourselves privileged to have faced none of this from our kin. We were always given wings to fly and achieve our dreams by our Retired Colonel father, V.S Malik. (This, despite there being no mountaineers in our family!)

We have been asked by many how we coped with climbing on our period days; the truth is, we never even thought of taking breaks. If a 29,000 foot peak could not stop us, there was no way periods would!

Our trekking and overall mountaineering experience was a lot easier because our period cycle was aligned. Many believe that women with close physical and emotional proximity are likely to share simultaneous menstrual cycles. If they are not aligned, they are likely to, with each woman’s cycle moving by a few days until both their periods occur at most three or four days to each other. We won’t call this a myth because we have always had our menstrual cycle aligned with each other! Because of this, we could plan our routes and days better, prepare for contingencies and moreover, exactly understand each other’s plight!

Let’s face it, behind all our pictures on the Everest and other peaks are not-so-hunky dory tales of avalanches and escapades from crevices, blizzards, overhangs, jagged mountain cliffs and oodles of relentless commitment. Superior sanitary protection was a necessity, not a luxury. But our period never ‘stopped’ us from achieving our goal, as it is a natural process of life.

By climbing the peaks that we did, we wanted to symbolise the mountains of challenges Indian girls surmount every day. And getting rid of menstrual taboo was one of them.

Even in circa 2015, many parents subject girls to denial, exclusion, malnutrition, lack of education and eventual economic dependence on men. When there are so many social factors, shaped by rigid centuries-old beliefs stacked against you, scaling a Mt Elbrus or a Mt McKinley seems a tad easier.

To align our daunting missions of fighting for equality for the girl child, we are proud to associate with Whisper’s ‘Touch the Pickle’ movement to ban menstrual taboos. A nation, which on one hand witnesses the most amazing breakthroughs in space and dreams of being a superpower of the century, simply cannot afford to have taboos such as those around periods.

Stepping out, going to holy places, chasing one’s passions, following one’s dreams and achieving one’s potentials cannot be restricted by a biological truth called menstruation. Achieving our mountaineering missions gave us much fulfillment, but doing so for the Indian girl child, along with Whisper, will give our lives a whole new meaning.

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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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