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In Just 3 Months, A Woman Has Busted Menstrual Taboos For 1000+ Women In Punjab

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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.

As part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s #NoMoreLimits campaign, it is worth sharing Pinaz Arora’s story who is helping break menstrual myths. An MBA and owner of a coaching center in Ludhiana, Arora has reached out to thousands of rural women and girls so far

In her conversations with women in a village near-by, she found out, to her disbelief, that women had been using grass and mud for absorbing blood during their menstrual cycle. It took several days for her to internalize this information and work towards changing this reality.

Two hands on a blue cloth background holding a green sanitary napkin tied with a red ribbon
Image courtesy of the author.

Today, though, Arora has reached out to over a thousands in a span of little over three months. She thinks this outreach is urgently needed because of the health risks posed by unhygienic practices among women during menstrual cycle.

The city girl that Arora is, she had lived a life cordoned off from realities of some of the Indian villages, and especially the realities of rural women. It began with a visit to a nearby village when a conversation about menstrual hygiene left her and her mother rattled. They were told, rather nonchalantly, about the dangerous methods of blood absorption.

In my conversation with Pinaz, she told me: “We thought we had to address the use of cloth but when we heard that women use grass and mud for blood absorption, we were in shock.” Her mother, who spent sleepless nights thinking about the trip, nudged Pinaz to do something about the situation. That was the start of the journey.

In February, Pinaz got together Art of Living volunteers to survey the rural areas and understand their concerns on priority. They realized that most women had no knowledge or resources to do anything about their menstrual hygiene. They were part of the 200 million women who lack awareness of menstrual hygiene and associated healthcare practices in India. The survey also brought to light health problems that these women were facing.

two Indian school girls in red and white uniforms laughing
Image courtesy of the author.

They began with organizing awareness sessions for women. “We just needed to assemble women and we would spread out daris (cotton mats) and interact with them for 45 minutes,” she said.

She ran into an Art of Living volunteer who deals with fast-moving consumer goods. He promised to get Arora a good discount on sanitary napkins for rural women. Pinaz Arora sprang into action and pooled in funds. They would give the pads away for ₹1 and pool in the rest of the money put together by the volunteers.

Pinaz Arora is supported by men too, in her effort to bring menstrual hygiene to women. “Twenty volunteers have come forward to work for this cause,” she said adding nonchalantly, “Both men and women.”

I pursued MBA and decided to do something of my own,” shared Arora, “My working hours are from 4 pm to 9 pm and it was a perfect fit for my mornings were free to work with volunteers for this cause.”

The Art of Living’s Pavitra Project came as a blessing for Pinaz. The three-day program to bring awareness about menstrual hygiene amongst girls in rural areas gave her work a new dimension. “Through this project, I started working with the youth. I realized that if the new generation embraces and understands the process of menstruation, menstrual hygiene and self care; they will reach out to their families and bring about the required change,” she said enthusiastically.  “I am working with the future of the nation. What can be more satisfying than that?” Arora shares her hopes.

girls from an Indian school listening to a class discussion
Image courtesy of the author.

Debunking myths around menstruation, she said, “I have told girls and women that this project is called Pavitra (pure). How can you be apavitra (impure) during periods?

Menstruating women in India have been considered apavitra for decades. Pinaz added that she has clarified to the participants, “Most of the beliefs of not going into the kitchen, not working, among other beliefs, began because women need to be in rest mode. They need to make time to take care of themselves.”

A room full of female students listening to a presentation on menstrual hygiene
Image courtesy of the author.

The Pavitra Project is taking Pinaz to schools to take sessions with girls from Class V to X. As if speaking to herself, she continued in the flow, “The next step is to tie up with an NGO or find funding for the sanitary napkins. Awareness sessions and teaching asanas to women, another corner stone of Project Pavitra has received good interest from school managements. Principals are showing such interest that it seems like a cake walk.”

 

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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