We are Nirali and Khushboo from the Piramal Foundation for Education Leadership. We have been working with government schools in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, since June 2015. Here is why we are working to provide menstrual education and sex education to girls in our villages.
The issue of menstruation and the problems that women face because of it, irrespective of their background, have existed in our country for a long time, and they seem to be going nowhere because nobody wants to talk about them. We should not have been surprised when we became aware of the situation in the villages we are currently working in. But the extent to which it has paralysed the social system in the rural areas deeply disturbed us. It showed us how a normal physiological process can become a plague due to lack of awareness. We have been working in rural communities for more than a year now.
The following conversation with a pre-teen girl, studying in class 6, caught our attention.
She: Ma’am, I won’t be able to come to school now.
She: My mother won’t allow me. She says I have grown up. I shouldn’t be going to school now.
We were surprised. A visit to her house confirmed our apprehensions. She had started getting her periods. And she wanted to go to school but she was embarrassed by the incessant bleeding. She was afraid of how her friends would react when they saw her clothes and become aware of her condition. There were hundreds of other restrictions that had been imposed on her because of this ‘evil’ thing that was happening to her body, and she had no idea what it was and why it was happening to her.
There are many other girls like her in who compromise their freedom and give up on their dreams because of lack of awareness around menstruation. Most of these girls are first generation learners and have to drop out of school because of periods. Most of them do not have a friend, a counsellor, or a teacher they can talk to, unlike girls in the urban areas. The elderly are the only people they can turn to. However, the elders are not aware themselves, and hence, the cycle of misinformation continues. The toilet facilities are not proper and extremely unhygienic. Worse, the local women use sand and ashes during their periods. Menstrual health and hygiene is a very important issue because half of the world’s population is affected by it. Yet, it could easily rank among one of the most neglected issues in our country.
For starters, hardcore ground research in these communities revealed the following information:
The figures were alarming and called for an immediate intervention.
The issue is deep-rooted and is considered a taboo everywhere. We intend to break those shackles and the inhibitions internalised by the girls. For this, we need to train them early and begin awareness sessions for them before the onset of puberty. We hope to help the local school teachers become torchbearers in our fight against the issues surrounding menstruation. We have contacted Aditi Gupta, a well-known name in this field and the co-founder of Menstrupedia.com, to provide comic books on menstruation. Since the illustrations are interesting and informative and our target age group is 10-15 years, these books would be perfect to talk about a sensitive issue in an interesting way. The books can be kept in school libraries and can be used both by teachers at the time of counselling or by students. We will also host awareness sessions for the students, teachers, and the community members, conducted by experts from the YP foundation, which is based in New Delhi. These sessions will be focused on menstrual and sexual health, among other related topics.
We aim to reach out to a minimum of 300 people, including students, teachers and the community members. Along with this, we plan to make the Menstrupedia comic books available in the libraries of at least 20 government schools to maximise the impact that we want to create. For this, we are crowd funding at Milaap. This is how we plan to utilise the funds:
1) Sanitary pads – 1000 pads*3= ₹3000 (₹3 per pad)
2) Menstrupedia comics – 100 books*105= ₹10500 (₹105 per book with shipping charges)
3) Workshops for girls – ₹5000
4) Workshops for teachers – ₹3000
5) Workshops for community members – ₹4500
We request you to contribute to this project and help us to keep the girls in schools. You can go to our crowd funding link here and make your contribution: https://milaap.org/campaigns/w2w