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Breaking Menstrual Taboos!

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All these years, I have seen people talking about safe drinking water, growth of educational institutions for a secured future, better health facilities, toilets for girls, etc. In fact, regarding the topic of toilets for girls, there have been many public campaigns and TV ads where we see celebrities emphasising on the necessity of the message of ‘shochalaya banao (build toilets)’. After all, this is one of the many ways of preventing harmful diseases from becoming epidemics.

Somehow, it is now easier to send a mission to Mars than to universalise sanitation. With the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, it is possible to have a clean India – provided we give our 100%. However, apart from public sanitation, there are many more things to talk of, discuss and create awareness about.

Yes, you got me right. I am trying to emphasise the need to talk about issues pertaining to menstruation. How many of us actually bother to talk about or spread awareness on this issue? Very few. Rather, whenever there is an advertisement on TV which shows sanitary napkins, people get so edgy that they tend to change channels.

No, you don’t need to do that at all! We bleed on a monthly basis, which is absolutely normal. It is a sign that we have a healthy reproductive system. I have had many friends in school who never talked on such issues with their fathers or brothers. If they did talk about this with their brothers, the discussions were mostly met with laughter.

It’s absolutely fine if you let your father or your brother get you a packet of sanitary napkins. In my case, I was never shy to tell my father to get me pads when I was menstruating. On the other hand, some of my friends used to give me such disgusted looks as though the thought of asking your father to bring what you need in your ‘uncomfortable week’ was unimaginable.

There was even an incident some six years ago. I had stained my white summer school skirt so badly that I had to tell the boys in my class to leave for 10 minutes so that I could ink the large red patch in blue. Luckily, the teacher was late. All of them had witnessed what I was going through. One of the boys even went on to comment, “Was she bitten by a leech?” I wasn’t hurt by his remark but I felt bad for him. Would he ever say the same thing if his mother, sister or partner went through the same situation I did?

However, my condition got so worse that I decided to take a ‘half-leave’ and go home because of constant abdominal cramps. When the teacher asked me why I wanted to go home, I simply said, “Sir! I am on my period. I want to go home!” The teacher was understanding enough and immediately let me go.

The reaction on everyone’s faces surprised me. Some of the girls said, “What is wrong with her? How could she even tell that to a male teacher?” This happened in class 12, when one is supposed to much more matured than students in other classes. Ironically, most of them wanted to be doctors. To create a gender sensitive society, reforms have to start from the classroom level itself.

Women, especially from rural areas, suffer a lot as they do not find a voice when they are menstruating. They are often forced to use unhygienic means when they are bleeding, which aren’t even disposed properly. There are instances when they reuse these sanitary tools which then leads to an outbreak of deadly diseases – thereby reducing their lifespans and even affecting subsequent generations.

Due to the lack of hygienic means, women even face difficulties during delivery – post-natal care being another matter altogether. Not having access to proper menstrual hygiene is another reason for the high rate of school drop outs among girls.

Yet, there are pioneers and change makers who work tirelessly – amidst all the criticism and failures but with the hope that it is all for the greater good. One such person is Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur about whom Al Jazeera ran a cover story a couple of years back. Popularly referred to as ‘India’s menstruation man’, Arunachalam was obsessed with making the perfect sanitary pad for his wife – after he saw her monthly ordeal of using old rags because she could not afford sanitary napkins.

Some people thought that he was insane to be doing this, but nothing could deter him from achieving his mission. The result was an easy-to-use machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads, priced at US $950. It has even helped in creating employment opportunities for many rural women. Quite fittingly, the TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014.

On the other hand, Aditi Gupta is putting an end to the period taboo with Menstrupedia. Menstrupedia is a fun guide to healthy periods, which aims to spreading awareness about menstruation and shatter myths about it. Aditi’s Menstrupedia comic is for girls aged nine and above – and is now used by more than 75 schools, 25 NGOs and 70,000 girls across India.

Menstrual Hygiene Day was recently held on May 28, 2017 – and social media served as a great platform for spreading awareness with a plethora of videos, pictures, photo stories and even memes. It is high time we break such taboos. Knowing about your body and its functioning is one of the most essential things ever.

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        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.

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        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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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