Survey: 90.1% Menstruators Believe In Avoiding Certain Practices During Periods

Period Paath logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC, to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management among menstruating persons in India. Join the conversation to take action and demand change! The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

Preaching about something and doing it are two different things. Speaking from the podium feels easier as compared to being on the ground and executing the plan. All over the world and in our daily lives as well, we face this phenomenon.

So when I was supposed to write on how religion, myths and taboos and their role in menstrual hygiene management, I too was guilty of being part of the former party. My solutions were restricted to the worldview I knew— that of people of a certain class, economic background and scientific temper. It limits our understanding outside our social sphere and hinders problem-solving.

However, That Isn’t Always The Case In Life

Menstruation in India in itself is an issue that goes beyond how a privileged person can ever imagine. Twenty-three million women drop out of school every year when they start menstruating in India. Only 48% of the adolescent girl population in India is aware of menstruation before their period.

period taboos
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Understanding an issue comprehensively is the first step towards solving it. Crack it, and the rest of the levels become much more manageable. Therefore to understand how menstruation works in the Indian context, I talked to a few people out there working on the ground. These people have seen the issue closely, experienced it, and then developed ad hoc solutions to provide sustainable strategies. Here’s what they had to say.

The Main Problems That Exist In The Rural Areas

India is a diverse country. We see different dialects, different traditions and different people as we move across its lengths and breadth. This holds for its menstrual beliefs as well. “Women in Udaipur refrain from drying out their menstrual cloths in the open because they’re worried the sight of menstrual fluid will blind out the males. However travel a bit, and you’ll find women in the southern regions being celebrated on the onset of their period” said Ajita, someone who has been working on menstrual hygiene management in the rural areas for years now.

Across India, you see different myths and taboos, so there’s no one size fits all strategy when it comes to solutions as well. When trying to debunk the myths, the most effective way is to understand the region, the culture and its people, and then provide them with solutions that you know they’ll respond positively to.

Another thing that we see in large numbers in the rural areas is the unawareness about menstruation. As many as 79% of Indian girls are unaware of menstrual hygiene practices. With the majority of them being in underdeveloped areas, it is essential to factor in this knowledge while preparing plans to promote menstrual hygiene management.

So what I used to do is that I used to make a chart of the female reproductive system in Hindi, and scientifically explain to them what exactly menstruation is. This helped them look at menstruation as a biological process, rather than seeing it from a religious angle and freed the act of menstruation from any social or cultural taboos” revealed Swarnima, who has been working with young girls in Maharashtra.

How People Tackle Menstruation At The Grassroot Level

Tackling such issues in front of someone who hasn’t had the best of education and still hasn’t been exposed to the world is completely different from an urban group aware of menstruation. According to the menstrual health survey conducted by YouthKiAwaaz, as many as 90.1% of the respondents believed that certain practices should be avoided during periods. So, how do you convince young girls to let go of myths and taboos that have been ingrained in them?

It is better to not attack the taboo straightaway. It puts you on the back foot and what I’ve seen is that then it becomes a fight of us vs them. In some cases, I’ve even had men coming up and saying that we’re trying to teach them wrong things. What I’ve seen working personally is a lot of simple games and role plays that these girls can relate to and learn from. So using these tricks to teach them best practices is an ideal way” said Ajita.

I feel you have got to make them comfortable. You have to look at their age, their demographic and the background they come from. Spend time with them, and try to explain it to them the reason behind the myths and taboos in your own simple language. You’ll see a bit of resistance at first, but they usually come around. Also, pick your battles. We can’t just go around saying that their religion is wrong and what they believe is a myth. Focus on things that’ll bring a change now. Like making sure they don’t miss school during their periods, or that they take a bath when they’re menstruation. This will help them in getting aware and imbibe practices that’ll help them.” concluded Swarnima.

Only 55% of the girls consider menstruation to be normal. That is a metric that needs to change. The issues we see in rural India are a stark contrast to the ones we see in the urban parts of the country. While we see a time wherein some parts even alternative products such as tampons and menstrual cups, are seeing acceptance, that time is still a long way away when it comes to the grassroots. However, the effort being put in by thousands of people gives hope that while things are surely changing when it comes to menstrual hygiene management in India, they’re taking a turn for the better.

* Sincere thanks to Ajita and Swarnima for their valuable inputs on the issue.

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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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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