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This Young Delhi Girl’s Project Is An Environment-Friendly Way To Smash Menstrual Taboos

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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.

Deepa, 12, is the oldest of the 3 daughters of her single mother. A regular and bright student, she performed better than most boys in her class. Her mother had great expectations from her and was spending a chunk of her income in ensuring her education.

However, something suddenly changed. She started missing school regularly, and slowly fell to the bottom of the class. Seeing no reason in investing her hard-earned money, her mother pulled her out of school. Once a bright promising student aspiring to do a well-paying job, Deepa now works as a household help for her living.

What changed? Did something drastic happen? Not really, Deepa had just started menstruating.

The above story is a real reflection of the kind of problems girls face and the intensity of the difficulties related to menstruation in their lives.

Menstruation is common to every girl/woman. That accounts for almost 49.6% – 377 million women – of the world’s total population. It is perhaps the most simple yet the most needed discussions of our times. By considering this subject as a taboo, we manifest chauvinism that pervades around all the cultures, starting from our very homes.

In India, from a very young age, the girl is made to learn stereotypical norms to be followed around this natural phenomenon, like not entering the kitchen area or the temple, not touching certain things – the list is long. She has to carry the curse of being impure for those few days of every month.

To bring awareness about this tabooed subject, @WASHUnited started celebrating May 28 as Menstrual Hygiene Day since 2014. While not constraining it to just a date, they put down relevant reasons as to why menstruation matters. #WASH United shares how, in various developing countries, women’s and adolescent girls’ self-esteem, health and education gets directly affected, in the form of:

  • School attendance: 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school during menses (UNESCO).
  • Access to hygiene products: In India, up to 80% of girls use old clothes as absorbents.
  • Health: Vaginal infections are 70% more likely when using unhygienic materials.
  • Stigmatisation and insecurity: In rural Nepal, women and girls are forced to sleep in separate sheds while menstruating.

As a CSR professional, I have also come across all such concerns from time to time especially during my visit to government schools for WASH (water, health and sanitation) programs or other causes. Girls shared that their elder sisters and mothers have been living this life of shame and disgust for years now. This personally saddened me to a large extent and I wanted a solution to it. I got it in the form of ’Project Baala’.

Baala (meaning young girl in Hindi) aims to tackle the main problem about female menstrual hygiene in India: the expense of modern sanitary products, the problem of disposal, complete lack of awareness and information and the social taboos surrounding menstruation.

The project is the brainchild of Soumya Dabriwal, a young girl from New Delhi who’s as petite outside as she is strong inside. She realised an immense concern about this igniting still-a-silent cause. She learnt from her travel across five continents extensively that the myths and taboos around menstruation exist across the world and not just in a developing country like India. Working in rural Haryana and Delhi slums introduced her to the reality of many deep-rooted social problems that gained a global perceptive with her work experience in the rural of Ghana and South Africa.

The parallel point of focus apart from menstrual hygiene has also been the non- biodegradable waste that gets generated out of tampons and sanitary napkins used across India. On an average, a woman uses 10,000 sanitary napkins in her lifetime. Almost all of these are made from synthetic material, which takes 500 years to decompose. As per the research done, it is equivalent to 125 kg i.e. 13,000 units i.e. two transport trucks, which is humongous in terms of its environmental repercussions. Further to this:

‘Project Baala’ came up with a two-fold solution it believed to be both viable and effective in dealing with the social as well as environmental aspects of this deeply pressing issue of poor menstrual management in India:

1. Awareness And Education About Menstruation And Menstrual Hygiene

Through a fun and interactive 1-2 hours session, the team Baala educates and empowers the women and young girls on the core issues that include the reasons for a female body to menstruate, how the pain can be managed during those days through better awareness, how appropriate hygiene should be maintained during the periods etc. The team, during various workshops in the recent past, picked up ques and queries from the feedback taken and further answered their concerns like when to visit a doctor, what to eat to compensate for nutrient loss during menstruation and so much more. It is both saddening as well as a happy feeling to realise that both the women and the young girls have so many questions, numerous thoughts related to their health and well being but ironically have been living their lives maintaining a strange silence around it.

2. Sustaining Hygienic Menstrual Protection

Baala introduced re-usable sanitary pads to these girls and women. These pads are specially designed to combine the functionality of a commercial pad with the re-usable and environment-friendly attributes of cloth. The pad comprises multiple layers, with each layer serving its own functionality like softness, quick drying ability, a high-absorbent core, leak-proof layer, antimicrobial treatment to name a few.

A kit of 3 pads is distributed to each girl, to optimise for the using-washing-drying cycle. Enabling usage of these pads helps eliminate three major problems:

a) Risk of infection caused by using unclean cloth.

b) The burden of expense for girls to continuously purchase sanitary pads.

c) Immense pollution created by disposal of synthetic sanitary pads.

It is heartening to see that the feedback has shown increase in school attendance, higher confidence levels during menstruation and decrease in the use of old rags as menstrual absorbents.

  • 93% of girls report regularly using the Baala pads during menstruation.
  • 82% girls who used the pads stated that they did not find any problem while using the pads (drying was highlighted as a problem by the rest)
  • 98% girls were satisfied with the amount of information they were given in the Baala workshop
  • 73% girls reported an increase in school attendance during periods after attending the Baala workshop
  • 98% girls reported feeling more confident about themselves and their bodies after the Baala workshop
  • 9.5 out of 10 is the average rating given by the girls to the workshop experience.
  • 16500 lives have been touched so far across 11 states in India.

“I am so happy with the Baala Pads. They feel so soft and comfortable. Washing the blood also happens very easily. And the material is really good and does not feel wet at all. And I love the colour of it! Pink is my favourite!”- (as translated from Hindi) Nisha, a student in RTBK school in rural Delhi

So, all my beauties, let’s celebrate womanhood on this Menstrual Hygiene Day. Let’s love and respect our bodies no matter what. Let’s join together and aim to find solutions with the right intention, get educated, make infinite such small changes in the lives of young girls and women like Nisha that translate into much bigger impact. Let’s get together and eliminate the taboo that girls and women like Deepa are constantly cursed with. That’s when every ‘baala’ and ‘naari’ shall live a healthy and a happy life with #NoMoreLimits.

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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