Mr. Hemant Soren,
Chief Minister, Jharkhand
I am writing this letter on my way to a remedial center in Khunti where we are planning to have a session on menstruation today. 22 young girls from 11 villages in Khunti will leave the session as peer leaders empowered to start respective groups in their villages to break the menstrual stigma one session at a time.
I am Srilekha Chakraborty working with adolescents and youth since last six years in Jharkhand on their health rights and I run a campaign called #PeriodsPeCharcha since last two years appealing the State Government (then BJP Government run by Raghubar Das) to ensure mandatory menstrual hygiene services to young girls in Jharkhand. I have reached out to more than 35 villages and 5 districts in the last two years training women, men, youth, schools, Self Help Groups and ASHA workers since then with several grass root organizations.
I realized that there several young girls who experiences their first periods with fear and anxiety, and Jharkhand having one of the highest rate of school dropouts in India the out of school girls faces worse fears and its then that I started the petition which has reached out to more than 1.5 lakh supporters online now. Despite several policies and mechanisms in place, young girls at the grassroots are still struggling for basic hygiene. The Menstrual Hygiene Management Scheme has not reached out to the corners of Jharkhand with its services. The Central Government under the flagship of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on the other hand promised to bring Comprehensive Sanitation and Hygiene amongst people in rural India since 2014 but majorly missed out the component on menstruation. It’s an irony that programs and policies regarding adolescents in India are always run either in pilots or in small pockets as experiments and never makes it to a mass priority and we need to change the narrative.
Menstruation is not a women’s only matter but a public health concern, its related to anemia, pregnancy and malnourishment in its intersections. The state already has a strong network of Anganwadi and ASHA workers, who provide information on health and nutrition to women in villages. However, most of the Anganwadi workers are not trained to talk about menstruation and have no tangible material (like brochures, posters etc.) to pass accurate information to these girls. A report by UNICEF in 2015 claims that 67% of the state’s school teachers and 62% of frontline health workers are unaware about the cause of menstrual cycle. The young girls that I have interacted with in Chaibasa, Khunti and Pakur hardly had any discussions or sessions around menstruation in their community. Thanks to few progressive government officials there has been few short campaigns like Chuppi Todo last year which started a dialogue in the communities but we need to strengthen them as behavioural changes demands a much deep intervention for long term impact. One of the major gaps I have identified is that young girls seldom knows whom to approach when they start menstruating and as a matter of fact in major tribal communities’ girls end up taking wrong information from peers or they manage themselves and systematically gets trapped in the maze of misconception. If we can ensure that the ASHA and the Anganwadi workers during their Village Health Nutrition Day can start having a mandatory session on adolescent health and prioritize menstruation and puberty, then we together can help raise a generation of informed adolescents. It’s time all girls in rural communities of Jharkhand get access to the right information on menstrual hygiene.
I have reached out to several officials in the last few years and finally writing to you because I am hopeful that with all the positive moves that you have initiated lately in Jharkhand, change is inevitable. I have been talking about blood in the most non-violent way to adolescents in Jharkhand since so many years now and imagine the impact if we can lead the movement together. You aim to build a young Jharkhand and hence prioritizing menstrual health for young girls let’s build it together.
Hope to be a collaborator in your mission soon.