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Menstrual Diaries: Encouraging Adolescent Girls To Keep Track Of Physical Symptoms And Emotions During Periods

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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.

Here Are Some Of The Common Findings:

  • Physical pain: Stomach ache, weakness and body pain.
  • Emotional turmoil: Depression, sadness, anger, tension, feeling unprepared, disturbed, nervous and confused.
  • Taboos (not allowed): having a bath, going to the temple, going out or talking with friends, eating spicy food and pickles.

Here’s What The Girls Had To Say:

“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.

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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

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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