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

This Manipuri Activist Is Winning Awards Around The Globe For Smashing Menstrual Taboos

More from Shweta Raj Kanwar

Leaving behind a life of domestic violence, this lady chose to take control of her future and has now become an inspiration for women to look up to. Urmila Chanam from Manipur has won a global award, Voices of Our Future Award by World Pulse, a social networking platform that connects women from 190 countries across the world with a vision to amplify women’s voices to speed up change and improve the lives of millions around the world.

Chanam from Manipur was among three from across the world who received the award. She received the award for utilising technology to achieve a high impact on community issues of menstrual hygiene.

Speaking to Shweta Raj Kanawar, Urmila talks about her journey from being a survivor of domestic violence to being a global inspiration for women, the issues she voices, and how she wishes to expand her network for a better future.

Urmila Chanam was born in Manipur but started her career at Shillong in Meghalaya. Her father was an army officer which gave her an opportunity to travel around the country, which contributed a lot towards what she took up later in life.

She studied social science and is a master’s in anthropology. She has always been interested in community and welfare work. She has also done a course in digital skills, as well as journalism. However, writing has always been her first love and she has also been a contributor to various newspapers in Manipur. She chose to focus on raising awareness and resources for “Breaking the Silence”, a campaign that has already won her awards like the UNFPA National Laadli Award in 2015 for the Best Social Media Campaign in India.

Here are excerpts from her interview:

Shweta: How long have you been associated with World Pulse Organization?

Urmila Chanam: World Pulse basically represents the ‘pulse’ of women around the world. It is a collective body of journalists and community workers working at the grass roots level. It works with a vision to alleviate the problems of women and find solutions that women want. I have been associated with World Pulse for about six years now. Their vision really impressed me and helped me find a purpose. I do not work for World Pulse but I am a community member. The women at World Pulse helped me to be what I am now. This award is a responsibility that I will carry forward.

S: When did you decide that changing the public perception on menstruation would be your mission?

UC: I always wanted to associate myself with community work. I am also a person who is not very interested in politics as I had a vision that the real change would come from the citizens. Talking about the situation in Manipur, I believe that the people have a great potential to bring about a change. But, my views on the importance of menstrual hygiene evolved over time.

Surviving Domestic Abuse

However, this achievement and the motivation to work endlessly for the good of the community did not come easily for her. Sharing her personal experience with us, she says, “I am a survivor of domestic violence. I was married to my childhood sweetheart. I knew him since I was four years old. I became a victim of domestic abuse right from the sixth month of my marriage. For eight whole years, I remained silent and did not share my woes with anybody, not even my family.”

This socially conditioned need to keep her troubles under the carpet cost her a lot in life. “This pretension, this ‘virtue’ of keeping mum about my worries nearly killed me. But that was the end of it. I decided to take matters into my own hands and taking only my three-year-old daughter with me, I walked out of my house, leaving all my belongings behind, in search of a better life.

This happened around eight to nine years back and the future seemed very uncertain for Urmila and her child. She says, “I left my job, my home, my belongings. I was literally running for cover and never looked back again. I earned everything brick by brick. My daughter is 12 now.”

This particular incident acted as an eye opener for her. This was when she realised that the biggest barrier to women empowerment in India is the social conditioning that makes women keep things under the carpet and not seek help.

This is the very reason why she founded the campaign known as “Breaking the Silence”. She envisions a time when women will be able to speak up and seek as well as provide help without any hesitation.

Urmila has been actively campaigning against the stigma attached to menstruation. She has been actively campaigning in various parts of the nation including Maharashtra, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Manipur. Very soon, Kashmir will be her next campaign destination.

Women should not be considered as outcasts when on their periods. Don’t treat us like outcasts for five days and pretend to worship us for the remaining 25 days,” she says.

Men should come on board and partner with women to work against the stigma attached to menstruation. My campaign also engages a lot of men and I am open to all sorts of interaction with men on this issue. Most men have also supported me and inspire me in my endeavours. In the last 90 days, various men have come on board and shown interest in this issue of menstruation and the stigma attached to it,” she says, while adding that women often presume that men may not support them or might be uninterested in this issue, which is completely false. The need to open oneself up to support is also a crucial thing in this regard.

Urmila Chanam’s Vision For Women

1. The number of women who use sanitary pads should increase. In India, every year 72,000 women die of cervical cancer due to poor menstrual hygiene.

2. There has to be a decline in the school dropout rate among girls after they start menstruating. About 23% of girls in India are leaving school as after they have their periods, they suffer due to poor sanitary conditions in schools and lack of proper disposal facilities. I want to see a supportive environment in schools, colleges as well as workplace regarding this crucial issue.

3.  The most important goal is for the government to include a chapter on ‘Menstrual Hygiene Education’ in the school curriculum, which should be taught diligently to all genders.

She goes on to say that northeast India will be her prime focus due to the fact that this region is comparatively cut off from the rest of the nation due to various reasons, which makes it important to introduce the campaign here. She added that menstrual hygiene management and sensitisation in the region will be of utmost importance to her.

She urged the people as well as the government to work in close collaboration with each other and create an environment free from all stigmas and unnecessary connotations.

The talent quotient of the northeast is undeniably strong. However, due to the armed struggle in various states, our energy has been diverted towards freeing ourselves from this terror. But, it is time now to rise above what has happened as the future belongs to us. It is time to part our curtains and look out at the world.

A version of this article was originally published here.

You must be to comment.

More from Shweta Raj Kanwar

Similar Posts

By Ishita Agarwal

By Maseera Khan

By Shafia Shaan

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