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How We Celebrated International Menstrual Hygiene Day During The Pandemic

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Given the nationwide lockdown situation as on 28th May 2020, it made celebrating the International Menstrual Hygiene Day almost impossible. Unlike other years, when we would organise a platform where different events would be lined up for the day across India, the year 2020 was different.

The Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation organises its annual bike rally ‘Men Take Lead Ride’ in Bengaluru to commemorate this important day, but this year it had to be called off, even though we kept on pinning all our hopes that the spread of the pandemic would decline, or at least halt. Till the last moment, we refrained from cancelling the event pages, hoping things would get back to normal. Only they didn’t.

Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation has always been guided by the World Pulse vision and programme of impacting solutions using digital technology. We conducted an online experience for viewers starting from 24th April to build up till the Menstrual Hygiene (MH) Day, including activities as mentioned below, as anything else was not feasible with the lockdown. We dedicated the MH Day 2020 celebrations to World Pulse for its work on ensuring girls and women around the world receive digital skills training and digital empowerment so they may be linked to opportunities.

1. A social media splash on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube was organised to raise awareness through poster-based messages from key stakeholders and individuals on menstrual hygiene management on varied topics such as:

  • Myths, taboos, and their harmful effects on girls and women,
  • Making reusable and eco-friendly menstrual hygiene products available ‘everywhere for everyone’,
  • Human rights of sanitation and water for menstruating girls and women,
  • Need for a multi-sectoral collaboration for a more effective Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) programming,
  • Periods during pandemics,
  • Men’s knowledge on menstruation as key, for it is also their business as they have girls and women in their lives as mothers, sisters, friends, wives, daughters and colleagues,
  • Breaking the myth of being ‘isolated’ during menstruation for fear of infecting/making others impure,
  • Understanding a world where men menstruate and conclude how gender inequality plays out,
  • Importance of care during periods,
  • MHM for girls and women as self-care and self-love for being givers of life

2. Owing to the lockdown and pandemic, all field activities had to be suspended. Thus, we took a decision to focus on online programming. Fortunately, Breaking the Silence Worldwide has been conducting successful social media and media campaigns since 2014, so it was not a big challenge. In this period, the majority turned to webinars, Twitter chat and video-based communication.

The model of programming we employed was intended to mobilise interest, curiosity, information, involvement using social media with a long-term objective of building a cadre of MHM champions through the MHM Quiz. It was conducted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram between 24th April and 24th May, winners were announced on 28th May International Menstrual Hygiene Day, and prizes and certificates given to them.

The certificates were co-signed by Urmila Chanam, founder of Breaking the Silence Worldwide Foundation, and Sharon Mather, co-founder of Voices of Women Worldwide and VOWW TV. The MHM Quiz was available on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages of the organisation, as well as on World Pulse and LinkedIn.

The purpose of the MHM Quiz was to develop curiosity in people from all genders, and help them check their information level and take the first step in ‘breaking the culture of shame and silence’ on menstruation by bringing the conversation to public domain.

Who was being impacted by this initiative? Girls, boys, women and men on social media and those who have access to digital technology.

“Participating in the events was a great experience. Thank you for such a beautiful opportunity. But, being thankful isn’t enough. I pledge to honour the knowledge and encouragement I got from your organisation to spread awareness on breaking old myths amongst people. Thank you once again, lots love and gratitude.” 15th June 2020
Winner Karan Babbar from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, a PhD student from IIM Ahmedabad says: “This is indeed one of the great achievements.”

A winner Sivakami Muthusamy from Mumbai says,

“I work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and I participated because menstrual hygiene management is close to my heart. Winning or losing does not matter honestly. I felt the urge to participate to generate the attention.”

  • Total participants: 83
  • Number of female participants: 50
  • Number of male participants: 33
  • Percentage of female participation: 60.24%
  • Percentage of male participation: 39.76%
  • 9 winners
  • 6 female winners
  • 3 male winners
  • Participation by people from different parts of the country
  • Thousands reached through social media posts, newspapers, web media forums shares, and word of mouth.

Winners received special prizes, keeping in view what would interest all genders and be of utility to them. We also had to consider that markets are closed, post offices and private courier services suspended, and inter-State transportation at a standstill. A set of four mason jars with lid and straw were delivered to the doorstep of the winners via Amazon and certificates were sent through e-mail.

Male participants also got involved with ease, because Breaking the Silence programme involves their participation from the start through its Men Take Lead Ride initiative. Two school students participated: Ningombam Bijyalaxmi, a female student of Class XI Sailesh Ningthoujam, a male student of Class VIII, both from Imphal, Manipur.

A few participants also expressed the need for such educative and engaging online quiz, and other programmes that can engage people from all genders, and not just women.

3. We also launched our website for Breaking The Silence Worldwide Foundation on International Menstrual Hygiene Day, and hopefully, it will serve to enhance the visibility of our programmes and efforts.

The website has been developed by Binapani Ningombam, a software professional based in New Delhi, who has made a voluntary contribution of paying for the domain name annually. We are indebted to her contribution. Ningombam serves the mission as the Head of Communications of Breaking the Silence Campaign Worldwide Foundation and is part of the core team of the organisation.

4. On the same day, we also announced our next national-level competition, which will begin on 1st July and go on till 1st October, where we will give 10 prizes to winners and certificates to all participants. The MH Day 2020 online celebrations were linked to the global MH Day observations anchored by WASH United, MH Day Secretariat, Menstrual Health Worldwide and other consortiums.

The theme for MH Day 2020 globally was #ItsTimeForAction. Voices of Women Worldwide, VOWW TV, World Pulse, Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz, India Bull Riders (IBR), IRSP Pakistan and the core team of ‘Men Take Lead Ride’ extended full support to the execution of the MH Day 2020 online programme.

On The Morning Bell, an English newspaper in Imphal, Manipur on 18th June 2020

Featured Image credit: Screengrab/Youtube/Urmila Chanam

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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, 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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