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Youngsters Are Using TikTok To Normalise Periods And Bust Taboos And How!

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.

Project KHEL is a Lucknow-based non-profit organization that uses play and outdoor activities to create an impact in the space of Gender, Pluralism and Sense of self. Their core work lies in imparting 21st-century life skills education through experiential learning and Ultimate Frisbee coaching, with additional programmes designed around menstruation, child sexual abuse and adolescence-related issues.

The pandemic-related lockdown affected Project KHEL’s work immensely, with all their partner institutions shut since the middle of February. In light of this, Project KHEL has been using a variety of online platforms to engage with the 26 Youth Leaders that work with them (Youth Leaders are children who have graduated from Project KHEL’s programmes and are now working part-time with them).

With fairly good penetration of cheap internet services and inexpensive smartphones, TikTok has managed to reach the farthest corners of India. Project KHEL had been experimenting with the platform since last year, facilitating TikTok competitions among their Youth Leaders on themes that encouraged them to explore the word ‘Freedom’.

At the beginning of this year, KHEL encouraged them to create videos with verified information on CoViD-19. So, while ideating on ways of engagement during the lockdown, TikTok seemed one of the best mediums to tap into, to not just get the Youth Leaders to create content, but also take the same to a bigger crowd. This year, in the month of May, with great encouragement from the Youth Leaders, the organization took the plunge and finally started their own TikTok account!

The first theme taken up was menstruation. With the Global Menstrual Hygiene Day observed on May 28, and menstruation being an important part of the work Project KHEL does, it only seemed right. There was an extensive conversation among the Youth Leaders to decide inclusive themes that represented issues beyond what is generally shown.

The month was divided into 4 weeks, with each of them being assigned a theme for the video, to be shared for seven days. The themes were:

  1. Feelings and Emotions around Periods: To keep the first week breezy and talk about some general thoughts and emotions around periods, aspects that are already spoken about and understood.
  2. Men and Menstruation: To imagine realities where men were not kept away from all conversations and actions around menstruation.
  3. Kill the Shame: To explore the aspect of shame in the context of periods and how cultural structures become restrictive of what and what not girls do or how they do the same things differently during their periods.
  4. Representation and Inclusion in Periods: To talk about menstruators who are most often missed out in even the most ‘woke’ conversations around periods.

These themes were decided under the mentorship of Project KHEL’s Menstrual Educator, Angana, who is popular in the sector for her use of humour, action songs, dance, and stories to drive positive conversations around periods. Each of the videos under the themes was decided by the Youth Leaders and the content designed by their selves.

After watching all the videos, I can say that they did not just come across as well thought out and supported with catchy music, but I was also bowled over by the simplicity with which each complicated topic was depicted.

This initiative, that brought down the power of content creation from the hands of the adults in the team to that of the young people from the community, is a positive step towards youth empowerment and is absolutely worthy of applauding, and only watching the videos will help one understand why.

Below is the list of some of the most powerful videos that help build conversations around periods:

    • In one video, a young girl gets her periods while sitting in class and there is a male teacher in there. She asks if he has a pad that she could be given. Such a simple retelling of a new normal!
    • Talking about shame is mostly restricted to wearing white or stepping out of the house or feeling poorly about themselves during periods. But, these people have used their real-life experiences to share the truth. There is a video which shows a young girl walking up to the dustbin to dispose of her used pad, with her brother standing right there.

      This video seems to have stemmed out from a time when one of the Youth Leaders, who also happened to be a badge holder in her school had to check bags after a student reported missing some personal item. During this search, she stumbled upon a girl with a section of her bag full of used sanitary napkins. There was a lot of chatter on how this girl was of unstable mind till one of them bothered to ask the girl what led to this and it was shared that she never found the dustbin by itself, there was always some man standing close to it!
    • In the ‘Men and Menstruation’ week, there is an adorable video of a boyfriend offering flowers and chocolates and food to his girlfriend who was suffering from menstrual cramps. The video ends with him gifting her a pack of pads.
Talking about support when a partner is menstruating!
  • The same video is repeated, with the same music and actions, but with a same-sex couple, in the last week that was dedicated to representation and inclusion.
  • The videos from the last week are among the most powerful and inclusive themes seen both on TikTok as well as conversations within the menstruation domain itself. There is a transwoman who shares that she doesn’t menstruate, a woman who menstruates but doesn’t want children and believes she is as complete as anyone else, and a woman who does not menstruate and believes she is still a complete woman capable of doing everything that a woman does.

    One TikTok is about a woman who menstruates but doesn’t want children and believes she is as complete as anyone else.
  • Popular conversations around periods are mostly restricted to discussing the needs of young girls and women and recently a lot of people have started talking about including men in the conversation too. There has been no talk about ‘Men who Menstruate’! The last video in their TikTok series is also the most powerful one, that shows a couple where one of the partners is a transman. Transmen are individuals who identify as men and also dress up accordingly, but are born into a ‘female-presenting’ body, and that is how they become the men who menstruate. The fact that menstruation is not just ‘a thing that happens to women’ is beautifully covered.
The fact that menstruation is not just ‘a thing that happens to women’ is beautifully covered.

A lot of organizations have been working relentlessly in the context of periods during the pandemic. I imagined that this work would pan out best by providing access to flow management products. And, by meeting sanitation needs of the female migrant workers travelling back or helping out women in the lower-income groups who are out of money.

When I saw that Project KHEL had created a TikTok account, I was initially disappointed. My immediate reaction was that it seemed like they are losing their novelty and jumping into the bandwagon, and that too such a toxic one! However, as the content kept being shared, I must confess, I stand corrected.

It makes a lot of sense on how these people have tapped into such a popular medium to talk about themes that matter. One other aspect of the pandemic is that people are at home and using their smartphones and internet much more than usual, so reaching out to them with such simple content that creates such a powerful impact is also another way of working on periods during the pandemic!

I am told that their next theme is on Consent and I can’t wait to see what they have to share!

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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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