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‘Main Aaj Ki Ladki Hoon, Kyun Na Karoon Periods Ki Baat?’

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The conversation around menstrual hygiene management has made it to the mainstream fairly successfully in urban India over the last few years. Particularly in the online space, research, reportage and discussion around the larger healthcare and rights of menstruating persons have found a place of prominence.

But move a little away from urban developed centres towards rural landscapes, and the story changes quite a bit. “In my village, periods are still perceived ver negatively,” says Mausam Kumari, a young fiery menstrual rights activist from Rajauli block in rural Bihar. “Many people in the village have no idea what periods are, or why menstruating persons bleed once a month. In fact, some even consider it an illness.”

Mausam was speaking at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit, held last week over a period of two days, featuring powerful talks and panel discussions. “Women still use soiled and unhygienic cloth instead of sanitary pads in my village,” she said. “It’s considered a part of tradition and continues unstopped.”

Picture of Mausam Kumari, Youth Activist From Bihar
Mausam Kumari, Youth Leader and Menstrual Rights Champion

According to the NHFS 4 (2015-16), an alarming 82% of women in Bihar continue to depend on cloth during their periods. The study found a direct link between education and wealth and sanitary and safe management of periods across the country.

And that’s exactly the kind of change Mausam wanted to bring to her village. As a Youth Leader with the Gram Nirman Mandal and Population Foundation of India, she began conversations around periods, safe management and hygienic practices for menstrual hygiene management through setting up adolescent groups for discussion in her village.

“I have been called crazy, shameless and unsanskari for speaking up about menstruation by the people of my village,” Mausam said. “People say that such topics aren’t for village girls to discuss. They’re ‘modern concepts’ from the city and best left there.”

Despite the backlash she faced, Mausam’s fiery activism and action continued. She started the adolescent group with fifteen to sixteen girls from her village, and held sessions where they would discuss various aspects of menstruation. She led the conversation around how unhygienic used cloth was for management of periods, and built knowledge around the fact that the practice affects women on a larger scale. Studies point out that such unhygienic practices increase the likelihood of urogenital infections among menstruating persons, as well as reproductive tract infections such as Salmonella, Staphylococcus and E.Coli. It also significantly increases the risks of cervical cancer.

Have an idea similar to Mausam’s for a campaign to improve menstrual hygiene management in your community? Apply to the Youth Ki Awaaz Action Network on Menstrual Hygiene! Find out details for eligibility here.

And yet, Mausam’s community wasn’t very supportive. Lack of awareness and severe taboos ensured a continued tradition of unsafe practices. Mausam’s adolescent group had different plans. She initiated a financial pool system, ensuring every menstruating person in the group saved up ₹30 a month, so they could all purchase sanitary napkins to create a bank, from which girls could take napkins to use every month. After the initial few months, Mausam found that the storekeeper would give her a discount on the napkins, enabling her to save ₹5 per purchase. The group used these savings to distribute sanitary pads to girls from underprivileged communities.

“Today, in our Rajauli Block, there are 16 sanitary pad banks that have been created,” declared Mausam, to an applauding audience. But the challenge for her did not end there. Access to sanitary pads was only part of the issue, she said. The larger problem was the lack of awareness on how to use them and why to purchase them. While many community members dismissed the topic as one for their school to discuss, Mausam recognised that even schools refused to speak about menstruation. “Those pages in our text books were shut for us, before they could be opened,” she said.

Moreover, Mausam said, benefits from the government run Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram scheme, a health programme for adolescents, in the age group of 10-19 years, which would target their nutrition, reproductive health and substance abuse, did not reach the remote Rajauli block. “But we reached out to the Civil Surgeon to ensure that a Yuva Clinic was set up in our block, for young persons to be able to speak about such issues and get the necessary guidance.”

Mausam and her group’s efforts paid off. Today there is a Yuva Clinic set up in her block. Despite setbacks in terms of young menstruating persons being able to speak up and get the advice they needed, she said, things are improving. By sustaining her advocacy and taking her concerns up to Bihar’s Health Minister, Mangal Pandey, she said the Yuva Clinic is now functioning. “We have even started talking about family planning there, now,” she said. Family planning, she says, is critical for girls to know even before marriage. “If I know there’s a well in front of me, why would I take a step forward?”

Villagers and community members may hate on her, but it’s clear from Mausam’s talk, her confidence and her clear vision that she’s not one to stop. “Main aaj ki ladki hoon, kyun na karoon baat?” she concluded.

Indeed, why shouldn’t she? Her efforts are saving thousands from unnecessary risks, diseases and in cases, even death. More power to her!

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  1. raisupriya686@gmail.com

    living in a city makes it really tough to acknowledge the problems women face in rural areas…where hardly period is a topic to discuss for us however it seems like a real issue in rural areas…thanks for initiating this awareness…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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