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They Taught Us Everything About Menstruation In School, But Not The Boys

WASH logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #NoMoreLimits, a campaign by WASH United and Youth Ki Awaaz to break the silence on menstrual hygiene. If you'd like to become a menstrual hygiene champion, share your story on any one of these 5 themes here.

I still remember that particular day. It was during my 6th standard, an announcement was made in the middle of a science class. All girls from my class were asked to assemble in our school auditorium. We were surprised to see girls of other classes waiting there already. The hall was all set for a program. A few ladies came from a reputed sanitary napkin company and showed us a video presentation, which explained about menstruation, the science behind it, ways to handle it, menstrual hygiene etc. To me, it was entirely new and only 10% of what they spoke went inside my mind. That is quite natural. We were given a kit which had a pamphlet for information and a sample sanitary pad (marketing!). This was also OK. Before we left the auditorium, our school teacher strictly instructed us not to share about the session to our fellow ‘male’ classmates. We had a tough time hiding the kit from the boys. That was the first time I asked this question to myself.

Very soon after this incident, I was invited to attend the ‘puberty event’ of a family friend where she was treated like a heroine in the entire event. In the middle of the event when her male cousin asked about what was actually happening, a senior family member intervened and said, “No. This is not for you. This is only for girls.” My mind unknowingly asked the same question once again.

There were several occasions one after the other. Slowly, I started asking the same question to people in my close circle. I got a variety of answers with a variety of emotions ranging from a blunt smile to an uncontrolled anger. Nothing convinced me. My mind refused to accept the fact that I should not talk about this like every other normal thing. On the other hand, the society which I lived in, never gave a comfort zone to discuss or reveal my opinion in this regard.

Finally, I got the boldness to talk back. It was during my early twenties when I had to search for shops in an outskirt area to purchase a napkin for a friend in an emergency. At that time, I could only find a petty shop where the shopkeeper and the customers who stood outside were all men. My friend refused to accompany me. I went all alone and asked for a sanitary napkin. The shopkeeper, after a shocked reaction, searched for something. He finally said, “I don’t have a black cover.” I said, “It’s OK,” which gave him another shock.

This is where we miserably fail. Biologically, menstruation is for women. Menstruation/menstrual health is just not restricted to 3 days of a month but it is a core component of a woman’s entire life. From hormonal balance to pregnancy, everything depends on her period rating. Whenever I try to explain the need for men to know about menstruation I see people asking one silly question, “What is the need for men to know something which they don’t experience in their life?” I can and will say, “Why not?”

For girls, their fathers are their first hero. Many look up to them for every small thing. I have seen little girls who even wish to share the story of the ‘pencil theft’ that happened in their classrooms. When they share even such minor things, imagine their expectation when it comes to a life-changing biological transformation they undergo? How do they take puberty alone? A ghost that creates a mild barrier between them and their loveable dads? Dads need not discuss a period in detail like a mom. Few words like “It’s OK. This is an important part of your life. Take it as it is,” will make a difference.

PMS “Premenstrual Syndrome” is a hurdle that every woman faces month after month. This is not just for menstruating women but even for pregnant ladies and for ladies after menopause. The degree of physical pain and the mental pressure they undergo varies from woman to woman (in fact, it varies from one period to another for the same woman). Through all this, women work at home and outside home. They run behind kids. They attend social events and do everything during a period which they do otherwise.

They may have to smile when they just want to sit and cry. They may have to host an event when they actually want to sleep and rest. At that time, however strong and independent they are, their mind craves for care and concern from their loved ones.

It is definitely not possible for men to understand what women go through during their period. But knowledge about their menstrual health makes a difference. Every man should know what menstruation is – beyond the vague idea that it is just a 3-day women’s thing. As a fellow human being, it is really important for a man to know about the menstrual health of women. They should know how to treat her and more importantly how she wants herself to be treated at that time.

Menstruation is not a girl/woman thing. It is meant for everyone. Menstrual education and awareness are important for everyone irrespective of their gender.

If 10 is the age for girls to start knowing about menstruation, then at the same age boys should be taught about the science of menstruation and not as something that is not relevant to them.

Let's ensure that no girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period by making menstrual hygiene education compulsory in schools.

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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

  • Mobilising young people between the age of 18-35 to become ‘Eco-Period Champions’ by making the switch to a sustainable menstrual alternative and becoming advocates for the project
  • All existing and upcoming public institutions (pink toilets, washrooms, schools, colleges, government offices, government buildings) across East Delhi to have affordable provisions for sustainable menstrual product options

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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