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These Hidden Gems On TikTok, YouTube Are Smashing Period Stigma And How!

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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.

A college in Bhuj, Gujarat, in February this year forced 68 women students to remove their underwear to prove they weren’t bleeding. While India has approximately 355 million menstruating women and girls, prejudices, especially linked to the country’s religious practices, run deep.

Assisted by technology, affordable mobile phones and cheap and reasonably uninterrupted data, the last decade has seen the conversation around menstrual health gain a lot of online traction in India. The biggest beneficiaries of this development have been India’s adolescent children living in its remotest areas, who are using all resources available — from chatting with educator “didis” on WhatsApp groups, putting up Instagram stories and TikTok videos, and using menstrual tracker apps to talk about their period stories.

Grassroots workers, too, are utilising social media tools and available technology to spread information about safe menstrual practices in areas where conversations about sustainable menstrual practices are a matter of privilege.

Let’s Talk Periods: India’s TikTok Scene

In India, among the limited content on TikTok on periods that breaks down the anatomy, process, utility and applicability of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH), without cheapening the social conversations surrounding them, are hidden gems.

One of them is Nitin Kumawat’s beautiful poem, “Aaj Phir Mahina Aya Hai” that talks about a woman’s experiences on the first day of her period. Filled with cultural anecdotes, the poem deconstructs the shame and patriarchy associated with bleeding that is inherited by women through generations. Then, there is Rajat Sharma’s TikTok video which takes on the toxic bro-culture that isolates menstruation as “women’s issue”. Sharma goes by the name ‘Rajatbornstar’ and has close to four million followers on the platform.

@n1tin

Aaj phir mahina aaya hai 😐 IB : Paakhi 💙 #nitukipaltan #myvoice #edutok #periods #dard #dedicated #aurat #tiktokindia @tiktok_india

♬ Periods – N I T I N

@rajatbornstar

Soch Badlo Apni Aur Ladkio Ki Izzat Karna Seekho Kyuki Apki Bhi Behen Hai 😊 #periods #respectwomen #concept #help #foryou #teambornstar @keziachand1

♬ original sound – Rajat Sharma – Rajat Sharma

In another video, YouTuber and TikTok star who goes by the name Dr Animesh MS can be seen endorsing Meftal Spas — a medicine that’s achieved the status of “period bandhu” for millions of folks who experience extreme pain while menstruating. There are also TikTok videos on exercising during periods and the relative merits of consuming ripe papaya to regularise period cycles.

When the @instituteofhumananatomy uploaded a video for their 4.2 million followers on TikTok explaining the mechanics of menstrual cramps, it was both gruesome and fascinating to watch him poke around a cross-section of the female reproductive system. The video became a global viral, riding on the universality of the phenomena that binds the dysmenorrhoea sisterhood.

Activists, however, point out that there is a world of difference in the topic of conversation between rural and urban audiences. While conversations in urban India are around sustainability, and the activism around choices and taboos, adolescent people in India’s remotest parts are starting off on questions as basic as — where does period blood come from?

Period Art And YouTube Dispatches

To bridge this gap, and to have meaningful conversations, workers are figuring out ways to combine online tools with offline engagement. A case in point – Srilekha Chakraborty’s mural art wall project (that is documented on Youtube) that invited adolescent boys and girls from six interior districts of Santhal Pargana of Jharkhand (Godda, Deoghar, Dumka, Jamtara, Sahibganj and Pakur — and Chaibasa in West Singhbhum ) to paint giant murals to talk about periods.

When you’re talking to children and adolescents you have to be creative. Art is such a medium.” Pointing out that ASHA workers aren’t trained to talk to girls in a way that helps them talk about menstruation openly, she feels wall art is a great way to educate the girls. “Wall art is a great media. Girls who can’t read can see the images,” she says. She made the girls — mostly from the adivasi community — put up their period stories on a tree.

Chakraborty uses all the social tools at her disposal to talk about her work. Her mural project is on YouTube and so is her work with young Adivasi girls and other marginalized communities in Jharkhand. She started the campaign #PeriodsPeCharcha to ensure mandatory menstrual hygiene services in Anganwadis of Jharkhand.

The wonderous thing is, despite the walls that are up in the conversations about menstruation, in Santhali, periods are called hormo baha. Hormo means body and baha means flower. It literally means that the menstrual cycle is when the body is blooming,” she says.

period
Mural Painted by: Shruti Ghosh and Francis Mathew of Artists Anonymous, Photo Courtesy: Srilekha Chakraborty’s Youtube

Period Hotlines

Jasmine George of the Hidden Pockets, an organisation that creates conversations around sexual and reproductive health, says a lot of people, especially women from far-flung areas use phone hotlines to talk about periods, and in certain cases — with urgency and a sense of panic. “On our helplines, we get regular calls from women who have skipped their periods.” These calls come from a lot of small cities, where the NGO provides assistance to young people in three languages – English, Hindi and Malayalam. “And if periods are late by even a day, they worry about pregnancy, even if they aren’t sexually active,” George says. But one distinct aspect of opening up of various platforms enabled by tech is the increased participation of men.

Involvement of Boys and Men

While the language around periods hasn’t had a radical, conscious shift to include trans and non-binary menstruators, brilliant videos of a boy named Anil patiently and meticulously explaining the female reproductive process with aid of visual tools.

Even during the mural project in Santhal Pargana, the big challenge was to break the painful barriers of shyness of adolescent boys and bring them into this conversation. A young man called Kameshwar Verma rose to the challenge.

“The boys of Lachhadi village were ashamed to talk about this. Men would think what role do they have to play in this? It’s after all women’s issue, they would be embarrassed to even use the word mashik.”

But during the wall mural project, they realised that periods are perfectly natural. They even made their own slogans — “Mahwari na koi bhaar hai yeh, prakriti ka uphaar hai,” Verma says.

period

“I realised that men feel very woke about talking about periods. Most people who call in are men asking about the late periods of their daughters or girlfriends,” George says. But in a country where misogyny is deeply rooted in ownership of women’s bodies, George is also wary about the increase in men tracking apps for period dates. “I feel scared that this is also to keep a track of women’s sexual activity.” Besides this, (for a sexually active couple), there’s a huge misconception about the three days after period where people think women will not get pregnant following condom-less sex. There’s still the risk of sexually transmitted disease, she says.

Smartphones Streamlining Period Talk

Poonam Kumari, a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) trainer in Sarwan in Deoghar working with NEEDS, looks after 14 Panchayati blocks and advises adolescent girls on how to use handmade cloth pads among other MHM practices.

The NGO trains girls who’ve either passed out of school or dropped out to manufacture simple handmade cloth pads to generate employment and help local women shift to cloth pads. “We’ve given mobile phones to about 30 girls, they run Whatsapp groups, and in turn train others,” she says.

Most of the girls of the area have access to WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook because data connectivity is fairly good. In addition, they have access to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Saathiya mobile app that was part of the government’s Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) programme.

While technology has been able to bridge certain gaps, many still remain. “Personally I appreciate all kinds of work happening in this space that helps break the silence in the most creative ways possible but as a Menstrual Educator I have come to understand social media activism as elitist activism and it’s damaging to those working at the grassroots,” says Angana Prasad, Executive Director at Project KHEL.

A few years ago when a group of students wrote feminist slogans on sanitary napkins and hung them up all over university campuses to protest rape culture, Prasad and other activists like her bore the brunt. School principals in smaller towns saw this as revolutionary ideals that will lead girls to stick pads on the school walls and eventually cause the school to close. They stopped NGOs from conducting training on MHM.

Ultimately social and educational privilege plays a big part in social media messaging of activists in big cities and menstrual trainers on the field face the backlash, says Prasad, whose organisation is planning multi-city ‘Story Circles’ — a safe space where young children can discuss periods in a creative and fun way — through shared experiences.

“Both forms of activism can co-exist but there has to be a sense of perspective about the impact (these campaigns) might have and some amount of sensitivity for the cause. In the period staircase, while urban campaigners are in rung three and discussing taboos after having understood the biology, flow management and social positioning, in villages young women, who aren’t even the decision-makers in matters related to their own bodies, the struggle is still to get them to understand that periods are worth being spoken about,” Prasad says.

There is a lot of goodwill that online campaigns have generated in reaching the message to the masses. Both spaces now have to find a common meeting point.

Mural in the featured image painted by: Shruti Ghosh and Francis Mathew of Artists Anonymous

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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