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Period Sakhi: My Journey Talking About Safe And Healthy Menstrual Practices

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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.

It is certain that men will be born as bullocks in their next life if they consume food cooked by menstruating women. I don’t care if you do not like my views, but this is written in our shastras [scriptures]. If a menstruating woman cooks food for her husband, she will definitely be born as a female dog in her next life,” said a religious leader while delivering a sermon in Gujarati, the video of which has gone viral.

Having worked on sexual and reproductive health and rights, and menstrual hygiene for four years now, the quote was shocking to me. It is not only the government and policies that one needs to work upon but also the social construct around it, which delude the rights and justice for women and girls.

In October 2019, I became part of the ‘Youth Action Network’ under the mentorship of Youth Ki Awaaz, and with the learning, I designed and facilitated Period Sakhi — a campaign aimed at addressing the psycho-social stigma attached with menstruation, which has proved to be a hindrance in practising Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). As it aimed at breaking the taboos, my core team included family members of all genders.

Representational image.

The first workshop was set up in a house near the Anganwadi. With the help of Menstrupedia (resource material), we kicked off our discussion over menstruation and unfolded the myths and taboos around it. The mothers said that they never had conversations about it with their girls, but deep down they knew the myths were baseless, and due to social pressure they had to follow the norms.

With the journey, I focused on the system uploading the whole structure around women’s health and empowerment. Starting from discussions with ASHA and the Saathin of the block (Nevada, UP) over the distribution of sanitary napkins and Fe tabs for adolescent girls, I was able to understand the gaps in both awareness and accessibility levels.

Although the Saathin worked under ASHA, she did not have a clue about when the sanitary napkins came and when they were distributed. She was only responsible for vaccinations, which she gave to the community members. The ASHA worker said she conducted the distribution drive, but the girls and women of certain areas were always left out.

Sanjana, an adolescent girl living in Nevada, also a part of the Period Sakhi cohort, mentioned that most of the time they did not know about the activities happening around the Anganwadi and that the ASHA worker usually distributed it within her family and stocked it for later.

To enquire more about the accountability of the local governance, and the participation of schools in providing Comprehensive Sexuality Education and health care services, I went to the Mother and Child Government Healthcare Center in Indira Nagar.
My intern, Rohan Mohanto, and I met with the Doctor and ANM. They told us about the programs for girls to prevent anaemia and how the days are decided to visit the communities.

So basically the sole responsibility of the field workers is to ensure the delivery of essentials for both women and adolescent girls. The days being:

  • Kishor diwas
  • Kishori diwas
  • Poshahar diwas
  • Garvati diwas

These camps and visits are organized from the 5th to the 15th of each month.

At a private school, the principal refused to talk to us on such issues and was sceptical about running an awareness program based on it within the school. After talking to the students, we got to know that the chapters on reproduction are skipped in class, and there is no stock of sanitary napkins in the school.

We visited another government school where the girls said that they got sanitary napkins on a monthly basis, but the Primary Health Centers (PHCs) were never functional and they were not provided with Fe (iron) tabs, neither were they aware of such a program.

Representational image.

There have been several outcomes, such as increased demands for sanitary napkins and men being engaged in the conversation, like Sanjana discussing menstruation with her brother to educate and sensitise him. The community women also led an awareness drive with a focus on healthy and sustained menstruation.

The secondary outcome was that mothers encouraged their daughters to participate in the sessions and they came up with questions around menstruation, and we collectively discussed and answered with facts.

The fight for the dignity of menstruating members is life long, and it has only become yet stronger amid the pandemic, where along with creating awareness around MHM we were also able to distribute more than 1,300 sanitary napkins in various communities, including the Nevada village.

To know more about government policies on MHM and adolescent health, here are some resources:  

  1. RKSK
  2. IronPlusInitiative
  3. ARSH
  4. Menstrual Hygiene Scheme(MHS)
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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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