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

Why I Started A Battle Against Age-Old Menstrual Practices At The Age Of 16

It was a usual, slightly chilly December morning. I was lazing around in bed, and surfing YouTube when I stumbled upon a TEDx talk by Aditi Gupta, founder of ‘Menstrupedia’. 11 minutes and 28 seconds later, I realised my life will never be the same again.

It was heartbreaking to realise that in a country of 355 million menstruating women, barely 12% use sanitary pads, and more than 10% believe that this beautiful natural phenomenon is a disease! We boast of rapid technological advancements and broadening mindsets, yet our people believe that women should not be allowed to enter temples and kitchen during periods because they are ‘impure.’ My upbringing had been such that I failed to realise what difficulties women of my own age, in my own country face due to lack of resources and awareness.

I was in a dilemma when I started to fathom how deeply rooted this problem is and for the first time in my life, I gained a sense of purpose. This small yet significant moment resulted in the birth of ‘Nazariya—Ek Soch’, an initiative which serves the purpose of not only spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene, but also eradicate all the myths and shatter all the taboos surrounding it!

When I pitched this idea to my friends and peers, I received a variety of responses ranging from “Are you completely mad?” “Focus on school kiddo, you are not even 16 yet!” to “Anvi, Going against our society’s mindset is like removing a bucket of water from the Ocean. It won’t change anything!” My parents were among the very few people who actually motivated me to do something about this.

After a lot of efforts and in-depth study of the existing issues, I conducted my first workshop at IB (L) Public School in Panipat for students between classes V and VIII, on April 19, 2017. Despite my initial nervousness I realised that the crowd was curious to learn more about this phenomenon. I continued my demonstration with conviction and received a really positive response. I usually talk about a wide range of topics during these workshops and cover everything from the biological aspects and facts to the taboos surrounding menstrual hygiene. I try to keep the language simple and the session as interactive and fun as possible.

At the end of this session, a cute girl with beautiful eyes and a ponytail came to me and said, “Didi mere ghar pe sab uss samay mere se dur rehte hai. Hamesha lagta tha unhe galti se chu bhi liya toh ye beemari unhe lag jayegi. Aaj aapne bataya toh samjhi ki main bilkul theek hu. Thank You Didi! (Everyone in my family stays away from me during my periods. I used to feel that even if I touch them, maybe they will get my disease as well. Today I finally understood how natural and normal this is and I have nothing to fear. Thank you!)”

Over the course of last the 11 months I have conducted insightful sessions at a number of schools in backward areas in Haryana as well as Delhi and every time I finish my session I get a sense of fulfillment which only drives me to work harder.

Two months later, we organised our first event called the “The Blood of Life” on June 24, 2017 at MYOLO Headquarters in Delhi. It was an attempt to start conversations regarding menstruation through slams poetry and story-telling. It also included a keynote from Priyanka Jain, founder of Hygiene and You and an eminent member of the Pan India Sustainable Menstruation campaign, “Green The Red“.

In February this year, I organised a tie-up with other NGOs in which nearly 400 primary school students were shown “Padman” for free at PVR Rivoli, Connaught Place. This was followed by a lengthy interactive session in which the students learnt the importance of addressing this issue and pledged to break the stereotypes and not fall prey to the myths and taboos.

Nazariya—Ek Soch frequently visit colleges in Delhi University to organise awareness drives and interact with the youth of our nation to ensure that their voices are heard and their innovative suggestions form the basis for a society which is free of patriarchal constraints. We are equally active on social media; writing blogs, creating digital campaigns, analysing political changes and their impact on our cause.

Dreams and dedication are a powerful combination. Despite being at a very nascent stage, we are now a team of 10 change-oriented youngsters, taking large steps towards ensuring that menstruation hygiene is given its due importance and a truckload of diseases and infections are avoided by Indian women. I have been privileged enough to reach more than 3,000 primary school students, and I plan to reach a lot more over the coming few years.

Perhaps all our country needs is the right “nazariya”, a change of mindset, to break free of its traditional toxic practices so that we can really prosper.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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