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Putting Men In Menstruation: The Inspiring Story Of Pune’s Period Hero

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

“I had nothing to do with menstruation until 2011, when I was around 18 or 19 years old,” says Pravin Nikam, founder of the Pune-based Roshni Foundation, a non profit that works with gender and sexuality.

And yet, over the last eight years, Pravin has been an active advocate for involving men in the discourse around menstruation, gender and sexuality. Speaking at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit last week, Pravin shared his inspiring story of starting Roshni Foundation, a story that took attendees through the chilling repercussions of stigma and taboo around menstruation for girls in rural Assam, to the challenges around the issue that continue to exist in Maharashtra even today.

Pravin’s journey started as a student travelling with his friends to Shuklai in Assam. “The intent was to study the challenges faced by people in rural Assam, and interact with people there,” he said. “There, I met a young girl named Roshni, who told me ‘I’ve recently left school because I’m cursed by God’.”

Astonished by Roshni’s story, Pravin inquired further and learned from her father that in their village, girls who attain menarche are no longer sent to school. This was the first turning point in Pravin’s life. Here, he came face to face with the chilling reality, that superstition was keeping young girls and women from attaining their potential.

In India, a recent report by Dasra revealed, 23 million girls drop out of school upon attaining menarche, due to a mix of reasons including cultural taboos and stigma. Not only does this affect their health, wellness and careers, but also directly impacts the female labour workforce participation, impacting the national economy at scale.

Pravin Kumar, Founder of Roshni Foundation, shares his inspiring story at the Youth Ki Awaaz Summit.

Unlike others who might have moved on after such an episode, Pravin realised he needed to do something about the issue. Back home in Pune, he joined a formal gender, sexuality and menstrual hygiene training session organised by a government institution in Pune. Through his work, he met several stakeholders and came to a second realisation. “Taboos around menstruation aren’t just an issue in India. Whether it’s Africa, Europe, America or the Pacific – women are being discriminated against on the basis of menstruation,” he said.

Learning of these stories, and interacting with people in the field, Pravin started the Roshni Foundation, initially staging interventions around gender and sexuality, through sessions with adolescent girls in schools. Over the months, he realised that for maximum impact, he would have to reach out to teachers, rather than students.

Have an idea similar to Pravin’s for a project or 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.

A chief hurdle the organisation faced was the silence around the issue of menstruation. “The whole movement on sanitation in India started in 2014. But here we were, speaking about menstruation in 2011. Very few people would entertain us back then,” he said.

Fortunately for Pravin, Roshni Foundation found good partners over the months and came up with an effective module with innovative tools to train teachers in dissemination information around gender, sexuality and menstrual hygiene among students. “One common thing I realised through my work was that it’s usually the men who aren’t interested in holding dialogues around menstruation – they like to brush it off as a woman’s private business,” said Pravin.

Even among male teachers who were interested in the issue, Pravin faced reluctance to act, as they were concerned about the schools shutting down, or them being asked to leave their villages and homes. The challenges were such that they would have deterred anyone from pushing forward. Not Pravin.

Slowly, but steadily, he convinced teachers – male and female – to join his mission. “Till now, we have managed to train over 800 teachers, impacting the lives of 8000 girls and achieving a community impact of 5000 women overall,” he said.

Pravin’s story leaves us with a critical lesson – that the issues of discrimination around menstruation and lack of proper menstrual hygiene management in India – can not be resolved by women or men alone. “We need collective  action to create measurable impact,” he concluded.

What are your thoughts? Should more men get involved in the conversation around menstruation? And in what capacity? Join the conversation with #Periodपाठ and share your story! To learn more, head here

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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.

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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, 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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