There is this girl I know who didn’t have her periods until she was 14. Her mother was talking to her friends about why she hadn’t started having them yet and whether a gynaecologist should be consulted. So the girl knew that she was to ‘get her period’ sometime soon, but she didn’t really know much more than that. She knew, however, that for some reason, she shouldn’t probe much into it and definitely should not talk about it in front of the male members of the family.
Sure enough, when she did get her periods, after a momentary panic attack, she instinctively connected the dots and realised that this was what getting periods meant. She went around looking for her mom (in her grandparent’s house, which they were visiting) who gave her a piece of cloth, without explaining how to really use it, or whether there were alternatives – assuming that she would figure it by herself, which she did.
While growing up, most girls find out what happens when they start getting periods in some way or the other. However, in most cases, this discussion is hushed, thereby keeping them from really understanding what it is, why it happens and how they should deal with it. This leads to girls being severely unequipped to understand and take ownership of their bodies.
Around the time of puberty, a lot of girls drop out of school, or are not allowed to attend school and are generally advised to be quiet and reserved. All of this hampers their growth and damages their self-image.
Additionally, since ignorance is the breeding ground for misconceptions, these poorly-informed girls and women end up believing, and in some cases, even propagating the myths attached with menstruation, leading to a vicious cycle. Having witnessed all this first-hand in Ahmedabad – and even more so, in my hometown, which is a small town in north Gujarat – I strongly feel the need to educate girls, women and even men about periods. I believe this to be the key in liberating women across the world.
What is interesting is that periods are a taboo topic even in schools, which are supposed to be houses of knowledge. Our school textbooks do not explain the science behind the phenomenon, properly. Moreover, teachers feel shy talking about the subject to their students, which only adds to the cycle of myths, shame, and taboo.
We at Ahmedabad Global Shapers believe that we can end this taboo around periods if everyone is able to make the connection between science and this essential biological process that women go through every month. Making this happen is precisely the idea behind our project: The Science Period.
The idea germinated when two inspirational members of Ahmedabad Global Shapers, Monica and Aditi, collaborated to hold menstrual awareness workshops in schools. Aditi and Monica work in the field of breaking menstruation taboos and experiential science learning, respectively – and when they collaborated, a beautiful idea which proposed using science to address menstruation taboos took shape.
Soon after, I joined Ahmedabad Global Shapers and was instantly taken by the idea and impact of this project. We go to schools and conduct workshops with girls from classes 5 to 10, and talk to them about the science behind menstruation. We explain why it happens, how it happens and what they should do when it happens. We have found that explaining it scientifically not only equips them to deal with it but also allows them to see it just like any other bodily process, such as respiration or digestion. This helps in changing their perspectives towards it and lifts the shame associated with it.
We have noticed that when we enter the auditorium and start talking about menstruation to a hall full of girls, sometimes, there is pin-drop silence – since they don’t know how to talk about it and are sometimes uncomfortable with the topic being discussed in public. However, we have designed the workshop to ensure that they engage with the content and don’t feel shy in participating.
More often than not, towards the end of the workshop, the girls ask us deeply thoughtful and important questions about menstruation, which only goes to indicate how they have been just brushing them under the carpet so far. Of course, that’s not healthy at all.
Not only have we seen these girls clear up their doubts about periods with us, they also actively and enthusiastically participate in a ‘design challenge’ that we run. In this challenge, we invite school girls to create a working model of the uterus which explains the full menstrual cycle. These working models are beautiful, in every sense of the word, because when they walk around with it in school, without being ashamed of it. It feels as though one is witnessing women empowerment live!
Once a teacher asked a girl to cover up her uterus-model. However, the same teacher expressed her gratitude, once she had attended one of our workshops. She even shared her ‘period story’ with the students, and thus, we saw some of the shame being lifted from the room.
Madhish Parikh, who is a science teacher at the Best High School in Ahmedabad and has helped organise the science period workshops, has had interesting experiences working on the project. Initially, even when other science teachers in his school skipped the chapter on the reproductive system, he covered the chapter in good detail – despite being the only male science teacher in the school.
Today, Madhish’s students have created the most beautiful and scientifically-accurate working models, and we couldn’t have been prouder of the students. Madhish’s work and these models have had a domino effect in the school. These days, almost all teachers are covering the chapter and explaining it in good detail, because they understand its importance. We met the principal of the school as well, who loved our work and has offered to host an exhibition of the working models that their students made for the rest of the school and the parent community.
One of the team explaining their model. This is a working model that the team created to explain the process of menstruation.
Posted by Ahmedabad Global Shapers on Saturday, 11 March 2017
With this project, we have impacted the lives of 400 girls so far. But we have a bigger dream. We dream of a world where schools across the globe have working models and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kits explaining menstruation. In order to achieve that, we have created an open-source kit, that anybody can easily learn to use and then be able to conduct these workshops in schools, by investing little time every month.
If this is something you feel strongly about, please get in touch and we will equip you to conduct these workshops easily and effectively in your schools and communities. We are also opening the design challenge for school girls across India to create their own DIY menstruation working models. The best entries will be awarded and their models will be distributed in schools across India and who knows, maybe even in other countries! Come, let’s create a world where there are no menstrual taboos and girls everywhere can be healthy and shame-free!