A total of 12 Gram Panchayats of Talera block in the Bundi district of Rajasthan collectively represent the Barad region, which shares its border with the Chittorgarh and Bhilwara districts in far south-west direction. Otherwise a barren and rocky mining region, Barad is inhabited by people from different States of the country who migrate to work in the mines here.
This region has great economic and historic relevance. The downside of this remote district is the unsafe and orthodox environment for women — cases of rape, stalking, child marriages and atrocities against women have been reported in the recent past. The status of education of girls is also not quite strong in this district.
In a situation where adolescent girls and women are treated as mere subordinates of men and are denied equal rights, a local organisation called Shiva Shiksha Samiti (SSS) is running a project called FAYA, Feminist Adolescent Youth Action, that aims at imparting knowledge about sexual and reproductive health issues to young people.
Working in collaboration with the Population Foundation of India, SSS is running the project in 50 villages of the 12 Gram Panchayats of the Barad region. The main objective of the programme is to ensure that young girls and boys become well-aware of their sexual and reproductive health rights, and have easy access to related information. So far, over 3,000 teenage girls and boys have been educated as part of this project. These young and empowered minds are playing a key role in challenging the status quo.
The term ‘menstrual periods’ makes people uncomfortable. Women, men and adolescent boys and girls feel equally embarrassed when questions around this topic are raised. In metropolitan cities, things have started transforming due to increased awareness (still a long way to go), but regions like Barad are a decade or two behind when it comes to acceptance of menstrual periods as a normal biological process.
Since no one wants to talk about it, there are several misconceptions around periods as people have no idea what they are dealing with. Women are faced with many challenges and restrictions — they are not allowed to enter kitchen, visit any pious place, touch drinking water and sleep in the same room as men or other family members. In many villages, people believe that women should not dry the cloth used as absorbent in front of men, as looking at it will make them blind.
Because of such unbelievable level of superstitions and unawareness in these villages, the issue of menstrual periods is treated as a taboo, and no woman or man feels comfortable talking about it. This has led to severe complications — many adolescent girls and women suffer from serious health issues like fungal infections, urinary tract infections, leucorrhea etc. In a tribal region such as Barad, the situation is worse. This project, however, promises a better future.
“This project aims at operationalising four modules to provide comprehensive information on sexual and reproductive health to adolescent girls and boys. The first module, which comprises of knowledge about body, bodily changes, menstruation during puberty, has just been wrapped up,” shared Aradhana Singh, Project Coordinator of FAYA.
During the initial days of the project, girls would bow down their heads and not participate in any discussion related to their reproductive or sexual health. They come from quite conservative environments where no one in their families talked about such issues ever. Through this project, not just their inhibitions were addressed, but many misconceptions around the topic were also resolved. Menstrual blood isn’t impure and menstruation is not an illness that one should feel ashamed of. Creative educative tools like flipbooks were employed to make it a fun learning process for participants.
This project has been changing the narratives around menstrual health slowly and successfully. Girls, who were earlier hesitant to talk about menstrual periods, are discussing it openly not just among themselves, but in their respective villages by creating awareness. They now know the importance of using a safe and hygienic absorbent material and are opting for sanitary pads instead of using unhygienic cloth material, ashes and woolen fabric.
These girls now do not hesitate to ask Anganwadi workers for the free sanitary pads provided by the Rajasthan government. Not just this, they have started going to the Ujala Centre run by the National Adolescent Health Programme to get advice from the counsellors there. These young girls and boys now realise the importance of a safe and healthy sexual and reproductive health, and are taking every responsibility to work towards a better and healthier life.
Note: This article has been written by rural writer Suresh Kumar Bheel from Rajasthan for Charkha features.