The District Magistrate,
Dist.– Sambalpur, Odisha.
Sub.- Regarding spreading awareness about menstrual health.
You have my deepest gratitude for the steps you have taken in the district regarding education in the state government schools and for bringing some pioneering changes which have filled the lives of underprivileged students with the light of hope.
But, Sir, it pains me to tell you that in spite of your dedicated efforts, there is still one area that cries for your attention. Menstruation is still a taboo in most parts of our nation and, Sambalpur is no exception. There are more than 25 to 30 thousand citizens of Sambalpur who live in the slums and there are many more who live under cavernous financial constraints in the adjoining villages, lacking proper sanitation and education, of which 45-48% are female (according to Census 2011). In such adversity and distress, it is quite obvious that most of them lack proper knowledge of periods and menstrual hygiene and care. In this 21st century too, the stigma around periods continues, even when it’s a biological and natural process that can’t be escaped (and also should never be). As a result, women in these localities end up using any leaves, dirty rags, and even ashes to manage their periods, because of the menstrual blood being considered the “Ganda Khoon” or the dreadful blood. And this continues, generation on generation. These practices increase their vulnerability to the Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) and to make things worse, the disease is congenital. And this for sure is not just restricted to rural women only. The lack of proper menstrual sanitation has also become a major reason for girls dropping out of schools. The situation is alarming for the city and the nation as a whole.
But now the time has come to bring a change. Changes can be brought, starting with small steps too. Just a première of some films or documentaries (e.g. “ Period. End of Sentence.”) in public would suffice for the first step. Because at first we need to drag out the stigma surrounding periods from people’s minds. Next up, the school students (both boys and girls) must be made properly aware of the biological process, the “Menstrual Cycle”, which will surely aid in shaping a realistic and non-stigmatized thought at first. Awareness programs for girl students, who being adolescents, seek proper guidance in such issues, which is always a very pragmatic solution. Also, the power of social media platforms can be used effectively to spread the message in today’s time and reach a larger mass, especially the youths of today.
Now, the middle-aged women, who for many years now, have been suffering the wrath of their deeds (and the lack of education, of course), have to be made apprised of the scenario. Also, how the use of some dirty, filthy cloth during periods and carelessness towards such a key issue can cost them and their health, heavily in the future and they will pass on this to their young girls as well. This can also be used as a major opportunity to make the women, who are living a life under grave poverty of even major financial constraints, independent and empowered. For this, collaboration with the international organization, “The Pad Project” can serve the purpose. They can help to install machines that are easy to operate, use locally- sourced natural resources to function, and require minimal electricity. Each machine employs 6 women and 1 supervisor, enabling them to produce pads for their communities for approximately $.05 each. Also if the workers decide how and where to sell the pads; it would give them more economic opportunities. Working with the local NGOs and organizations like MCL can give a major boost to the initiative. Also, the “Pad Women of Western Odisha”, Miss Payal Patel, who has worked towards the cause in the adjoining district of Jharsuguda, can be sought for guidance.
These small, yet effective initiatives can help bring monumental changes in the lives of a large section of our city. This will help eradicate the taboo that surrounds periods, while giving the women an economic and mental soundness while being a catalyst for gender equality. It’s time for girls and women to break barriers of shame and secrecy and stand tall with pride.