In 2016, Goonj started work on menstrual hygiene in Rajasthan, a state well-known around the world for its forts and palaces and the ever colourful Jaipur, part of the golden triangle of tourism in India. Unfortunately, there is a different aspect which brought our attention to working in Rajasthan. It was stories of women using sand stuffed in cloth for their menses (with less cloth and abundance of sand, given the Thar desert). Many women of a village using the same piece of cloth for their menses in absence of enough cloth and stories of rampant uterus removal, etc, proved to be a motivation to take our decade old work with menstrual hygiene and management, to the women in the deep interiors of Rajasthan.
The Goonj team started with the villages of Udaipur and Dungarpur district. In this part of Rajasthan, most villages are on small mountains, where the distance between two houses could be between 100 metres to 1 km, mostly covered by foot. Most women work in the fields and the men go out to the nearest block/district for work. When the team started talking to these women, they found that pads were unavailable in the village market. These women face a challenge at different levels; not only do they not have access to pads, even affording a clean piece of cloth is tough, while awareness around menstrual hygiene and basic good practices around dealing with menstrual cloth were also found to be minimal.
The Goonj team conducted awareness sessions with the women, apart from providing NJPC (Not Just a Piece of Cloth) Dignity Packs (It consists of 10 Goonj cloth pads: MY Pads, an undergarment, and a lot of information on dos and don’ts around menstrual hygiene) to women and school going girls. These packs are also given to each family as part of Goonj’s Family Pack, where one member works for their village development and gets these packs with a lot of information on dos & don’ts of menstrual hygiene.
In one of the sessions at Manas village, a group of 40 women dressed in their traditional attire spoke on the problems they face during menstruation.
Sovni bai said, “There is no one at the primary health centre for checkups, mostly we go to Udaipur district. Usually, we suffer from stomach pain, irritation, and white discharge, but due to the shame/embarrassment, we do not talk to anyone about it.” All women present agreed to this.
Nakki Devi said, “Mostly, we use clothes for our menses; procured from our old sarees, blouse, petticoat. We wash and re- use the clothes. When we do not have clothes, we buy a red cloth at ₹20 available at the big market of Udaipur district and the cloth is not even fully cotton. We have used this cloth but the irritation and scratching remains.”
The discrimination based on religion, caste and gender is quite high here which makes menses more challenging for women. The challenge for the Goonj team was to gather these women, living so far from each other, at one place.
In one of the sessions at a school, girls spoke on menses.
“During my periods my grandmother does not allow me to go inside the kitchen. She treats me differently on those 4 days. She continuously restricts me to touch things, to sit here and there, to go outside, to talk to people. I feel that by having periods I have done something wrong,” says Suman
Rakhi said, “I was unaware of my periods, I was in school when I stained my skirt and then my friend told me about it. I was scared and told my mom. She gave a pack of sanitary pad but never spoke to me about the issue. I was just restricted from doing various things. I get angry, fight with my mom and she scolds me back. I stop talking much during those 4 days.”
Goonj has provided Dignity Packs to more than 200 women/girls in Rajasthan till now.
On May 28, the whole world will observe Menstrual Hygiene Day. The story of menstruation is incomplete without a piece of cloth and understanding the challenges of different segments of women in our society. To know more on the campaign ‘Not Just a Piece of Cloth’, click here.
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