How A 9th Grader Is Breaking The Silence Around Periods In Her Adivasi Community

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

By: Satish Deshpande
Translated by: Rucha Satoor

Rupali Bhimraj Gaikwad is studying in the 9th standard in a government primary hostel, in Paregaon, Chandwad, Nashik. Rupali’s family lives close by to the Ashram Schools in Pingalwadi, Chowsal, Dindori, Nasik. This is an Adivasi settlement.

Rupali has been staying in an Ashram School since the first standard. Along with Rupali, this school has proved to be a boon for a number of children in her Adivasi community. Since the time that the provisions for education have been made available in this area, the children have started developing an aspiration for education. While infrastructure remains critical, cleanliness and health of the children are equally important concerns.

Scientific knowledge about hygiene, health and menstruation was scarce in this area. Along with UNICEF, a number of other institutions started creating awareness campaigns. Rupali made an effort to understand these nuances in great detail. Thanks to the encouragement from her teachers, and the volunteers from the non-government organisations, she felt confident to speak up. She first brought changes to her own life. Today, she talks about menstrual health and hygiene to her school friends, other girls in her Adivasi community, her mother and women of her mother’s age. Thanks to her speaking up, many women attribute their healthy and hygienic environment to her. Because of her exemplary work, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call her a messenger of good health.

Rupali’s Intervention

What are health and hygiene? How do you maintain them? Why are they important? Rupali explains the answers to these questions in an extremely lucid and friendly way to the girls and boys around her. She takes the lead in keeping her classroom, her hostel room, house and community clean. She formed a group to talk about the importance of cleanliness. When these children sit together for group discussions, they talk about everything: right from cutting their nails to washing their hands after defecating. Rupali says, “In the beginning, when I used to broach this topic with the girls around me, they used to be often silent. They didn’t say much. Slowly, they started opening up. My questions and their realities weren’t very different. They were exactly the same. I started guessing the questions in their minds and addressing them. Today, a lot of these girls talk. They share and ask openly. I try to answer their questions as best as I can.”

Awareness About Menstrual Health

Even today, we don’t have an atmosphere where one can talk about periods openly and scientifically. The situation is even more worrisome in Adivasi hamlets. In addition to using unclean cloth during periods, not being allowed to touch vessels and family members, and considering periods to be ‘impure’ and ‘dirty’ are some of the myths that still exist today.

Speaking about menstruation, Rupali shares, “Even if we uttered the word ‘Paali’ (period) women used to feel shy. No one discussed it. Here, we tend to use cloth mostly. I’ve noticed that even school-going girls used cloth during their periods. Sometimes, this cloth used to remain unclean. Then they used to contract infections and fall ill. They couldn’t even discuss this infection with anyone. First, I explained that periods are natural. When we get our period, we shouldn’t feel shy, scared or liken this to a negative experience. Instead of cloth, I recommended sanitary napkins. What exactly is a pad, how does one use it, how this doesn’t cause rashes or infections, because of which we don’t fall ill, I explained all of this to them. Since I use it, others started using it too. The girls started inculcating such hygienic habits since then.”

Organising And Leadership

In the evenings, girls sit together and chat. Rupali answers their questions. Starting with health and hygiene, they even share dreams about educating themselves and becoming someone important one day. Rupali takes leadership when it comes to interacting with the Headmaster for everyday issues that the girls face. These interactive sessions on health are almost equivalent to classroom sessions. Even parents and teachers are responding positively to them.

Success During The Science Exhibition

Her activism doesn’t stop at menstrual hygiene. Recently, Rupali took part in the Science Exhibition. Her experiment demonstrated how the commercial sector could work to reduce air and water pollution. Her teachers also encouraged her. She seems hopeful about the society around her when she speaks about her experiment. She shares about how her work should contribute meaningfully to society. She received a district-level award for her experiment and also got an opportunity to participate at the state level. The fact that one child amongst them is able to reach the state-level competitions is a huge source of wonderment and inspiration for the Adivasi parents and teachers in the Bahul area. Everyone is amazed at her success.

Dreams: Computer Engineering And Service To The Nation

Rupali dreams of becoming a Computer Engineer someday. In school, she received information about how to become one. But she’s determined to ensure that her work contributes to the well-being of the nation. She wants to be a part of the Indian Armed Forces. When she shared this, her mother warned her about how soldiers have to fight wars. But, her resolve to serve the nation was not deterred.

One encounters issues around health and hygiene when it comes to menstruation, but issues about blind faith also abound. Branding a woman as ‘impure’, they’re often relegated to a corner or kept outside the house. During her period, a girl is neither allowed to go close to the place of worship, nor is she allowed to cook. She’s not even allowed to touch others or any household chore. Myths around health have encouraged myths around impurity as well. When asked about these misconceptions, Rupali shares, “All this is blind faith. Not touching someone because she’s menstruating is so wrong. We don’t follow this anymore at home. How much ever I repeat this, people find it hard to believe. But my friends in the Ashram school listen to me. I’ve managed to convince them that if menstruating monthly is natural, then we cannot discriminate on its basis.”

Conclusion:

Rupali, who talks about health and menstruation scientifically is truly a messenger of good health. Thanks to her leadership skills, she’s going to be able to organise and inspire many girls in her village for a healthy life. She never misses an opportunity to participate in activities at her school. Today, Rupali’s inspirations are soaring high, with her resolve to view things scientifically, work on environmental concerns and contribute to the success of her nation.

*Feature image is for representational purposes only. 

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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.

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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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