This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Bhawna Khattar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why Creating Safe Spaces Matters: Lessons From A Girls’ School

More from Bhawna Khattar

“I don’t come here just to learn writing a few words, I come here because I feel safe to share my views and opinions without being judged. I have not had this space before,” said Tara one night while we sat on a small chatayi (mat) under the solar light in a narrow lane of the Dalit basti (village) in Nosal, a village in Ajmer, Rajasthan.

These words not only made me happy but provided an insight to the value of creating ‘safe spaces’ in the process of learning and development – personal, social, economic, or any other kind of development for that matter. There are multiple perspectives on how development/progress of a country should be viewed and one of the popular arguments has been that solutions to the problems of a community must emerge from the community itself for more sustainability. The question is – how?

The process of development through this lens has its own challenges. The first one for those of us who study  development formally in colleges is to break our own stereotypes and listening, really listening to what the community has to say because what I may identify as a problem may not be the real issue for a rural community, like the one I was staying in for the last three months.  The second challenge for me personally was related to the first one – identifying one’s stereotypes but being able to draw a line to prevent myself from normalising a real problem. This is where the role of these safe spaces comes in, they help to see beyond the tip of the iceberg to the root causes of issues through conversations and building trust in each other!

Looking at the picture of two people getting married, the girls had suggested we discuss child marriage

This takes me back to one of the discussions we had in the girls’ school in the village, the workshop was on menstruation which still remains a taboo issue in our society,  generally associated with shame when it is spoken about. There were three of us, two of my team-mates from the UK and I, we had together taken up the project to talk about health and hygiene issues through a series of workshops in the girls’ school. The girls who attended the workshops were in the age group of 11-15 years, and menstruation and sexual health had been tricky topics to touch upon. In the first workshop, we tried to initiate a conversation about the differences between a male and female body, awkward silences amongst the girls and fear remained in the classroom, but the girls did open up a little bit when we had some fun activities going on. We asked the girls by the end of the workshop that how many of them felt shameful or fearful to talk about their bodies and 26/26 raised their hands!

When the girls completely opened up about puberty & growing up. The question was- “How many of us have been scared when our periods started?”


We held on to what had worked – fun activities and sharing our personal accounts related to the topics. By the fourth workshop, the girls had started sharing their feelings with us. They, in fact, asked us to create workshops around topics like child marriage, dowry and laws concerning such issues, these topics came out of their own experiences and needs. The first step though was to build trust, and that can only be built if there is openness to share and receive on both ends. This space helped me to gain so much knowledge and expand my outlook through anecdotes I would not have known otherwise.

We had a similar experience in the night classes that were actually demanded by women in the village, it was not what we had in mind. It all started with a meeting with village women about their health issues where Bhawri mentioned, “Yes, we can talk about health issues but we have problems reading what is written on the forms when we go to a hospital, we want to learn reading and writing first, start with our names!” And we did, we started with their names.

Slowly, the women and girls started teaching each other, daughters teaching their mothers, sisters teaching sisters, friends teaching each other, peer to peer learning. One of my favourite moments was when I was trying to explain ‘poornaviraam‘ (full stop in Hindi, written like: ‘|’) and Neetu, one of the girls said-“Didi, inhe poornaviraam nahi samjhega, danda bolo danda!” (They will not understand full stop, explain to them saying it looks like a stick), they developed their own vocabulary over time to learn. Every other night, Bhawri came with a huge smile already reciting what she remembered from the last class – “My name is Bhawri, yours?”

The most dedicated pair of mother-daughter from women’s class (Sunita & Bhawri)

The women had their own jokes going on all the time, and eventually the learning was not only writing their names, it was more about sharing their lives, a place where they could laugh out loud and support each other simply through conversations. Topics like government schemes and vocational training came up organically. Now this night class that started in a narrow lane under a solar light is on its way to becoming Sustainable School for Development’, supported by the grass-root organisation, Manthan, based in the same area. The most beautiful part still remains the peer-to-peer learning. Two of the girls from the village are being trained to run the school and the school committee consists of 5 women from the Dalit hamlet. The syllabus is being designed keeping in mind the lives of those who would be studying there, through their own suggestions.

I had gone for my volunteering journey with Pravah ICS with many questions, I have not come back with as many answers, but I have come back with powerful experiences around trust which have encouraged me to delve deeper, to say that I don’t know’ but let’s try to look! And one of the ways I have found for looking are these ‘safe spaces’.

You must be to comment.

More from Bhawna Khattar

Similar Posts

By Prashant Rai

By Sharik

By Anshrutha Shrinivas

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below