According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, only 57.6% Indian women between the age group of 15-24 years use hygienic methods of protection during their menstrual period. While women have bled for centuries, awareness about menstruation and menstrual hygiene is not nearly as high as it should be. Efforts to educate adolescents on these matters are gaining momentum, but the barriers of stigma and ignorance do not make this an easy task. SNEHA’s Empowerment, Health, and Sexuality of Adolescents (EHSAS) programme seeks to raise awareness about periods, menstrual health, and hygiene, with an additional emphasis on sustainability. While the programme targets adolescents, EHSAS impacts a broader audience with the potentiality of these adolescents educating their parents.
In this vein, EHSAS created ‘menstrual diaries’ with the aim of distributing them to the adolescent girls residing in the slums of Kalwa, Kandivali, and Dharavi, as a means of self-awareness and understanding. The team aims to analyse the responses in the diaries to gain an insight into the problems faced by girls during their periods, to gauge the best path for further educational endeavours. The diaries are not merely meant for complaints; they also provide a space for the girls to share their unique experiences. The art and graphics created by the adolescents add a fun, relatable touch that helps in making them adolescent-friendly. A pilot on a small sample of 500 girls will run for three months, after which the diaries should be handed in with the assurance of confidentiality. By entering information, the girls would be better equipped to understand their health and seek help if necessary.
The pages facilitate period tracking and keeping accounts of physical symptoms and emotions. They also cover period products used, disposal techniques, and other pointed questions regarding access to medical facilities and restrictions. The last four pages are simply titled “Dear diary,” for the girls to pen down their thoughts. A double standard that is often brought up in sessions with the adolescents is the male shopkeepers’ concealment of packets of pads in newspaper/bags before handing them over; so much so that it manifests in questions in the diaries. Men make a sizeable part of the pad industry as well as the agencies that advertise them: the question arises, therefore, of why they seem so shy about handling them. In fact, there are two comic strips made by adolescent Change Agents regarding this phenomenon, one of whom is – happily enough – male.
28 diaries were collected and analysed qualitatively one month after distribution.
“Now it is easier to keep track of dates of menstruation, which I used to forget.”
“I am happy, as for the first time I am getting an opportunity to write about myself.”
“I am feeling confused as there are so many things I want to write, I do not know what to write and what to omit.”
“I told my mother that menses are not dirty, she should not think like this.”
“I go and buy pads for myself from the medical shop.”
In an effort to introduce adolescents to sustainable alternatives to pads, a workshop was organised along with Livinguard’s Saafkins, a type of reusable period pads. As the girls often use public toilets to change pads, which often lack bins, the disposal of used pads down the toilet or in the form of litter poses a serious threat. Cloth, too, poses its own hygiene concerns. Therefore, the reusability and safe material create a suitable option. It is also an economical method, as opposed to the expense of buying packets of pads every month. The “period panties” were passed around, with everyone – including male team members – holding them up close for inspection. A potential free pilot of one year was discussed for girls interested, who could then decide their preferred method.