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Is It Easier To Have ‘Period Talk’ In Girls’ Colleges Than Co-Ed Colleges?

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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.

College is a space where one is exposed to new ideas and ways of doing things. It is the one space where one can meet new people, unlearn toxic behaviours that have been taught to them and learn to be more open and make opinions for one’s own self.

The University of Delhi provides both co-ed study environments to its students. Over the years, as the students attending the University of Delhi became more liberal and progressive, the environment around the university and its various colleges adapted as well. But does this ring true for menstruation?

Menstruation is a topic whose treatment changes according to where and around whom the conversation is taking place. But are girls college and co-ed colleges on an equal footing on issues regarding menstruation? I decided to speak to some students about this.

Girls walking to college

Girls’ Colleges

Girls’ colleges within the University of Delhi have a reputation for being ‘too girly’, and ‘fashion-conscious’. After attending co-ed schools, some girls may be inclined to shirk away from the mere idea of studying at an all-girls college – I was too. But now, as a student in a girls’ college, I can attest to the fact that those are false statements.

Girls’ colleges tend to act as safe spaces for women in a city notorious for being unsafe for them. They are more open in conversation. Maybe it is because of how relatable these issues are; it is easy to talk about topics that are conventionally considered taboo like masturbation, sex, and menstruation.

Girls from backgrounds that are not open about menstruation may initially face some challenges. But being a part of such an open environment for three years does bring a difference into their demeanours as well, making them confident and able to talk about the issue at public platforms.

In girls’ colleges, open conversation between students and teachers lead to spread of correct information. The campuses are more sensitive to women’s needs, like easy access to pads and tampons, menstruation friendly washrooms and environment. But don’t just take my word for it.

Saagarika, a second-year student from Kamala Nehru College, says, “I am in a girls’ college, and it is sort of empowering to see sanitary napkins in the washroom and not feel embarrassed.” But does this openness have anything to do with the absence of boys on campus? “With the girls, I can talk openly, but if there are any boys present, I wouldn’t openly say the word periods,” she continues.

Co-Ed Colleges

Discussions on menstruation are relatively harder to have in a co-ed environment. This behaviour may arise from the shame around this topic women have internalized while growing up. The presence of men can hinder open conversations due to women’s internalized stigma.

Although there is easy access to pads and tampons, as there are vending machines for sanitary pads in washrooms, facilities such as menstruation-friendly toilets tend to be lacking in co-ed colleges. The lack of open conversations and inherent shame does not let these topics come to the forefront, and hence they go unaddressed and unresolved.

My campus might not be a safe space to talk openly about menstruation; it’s difficult, being from a co-ed college. I don’t feel the need to use euphemisms while discussing periods but being loud about it can attract unwanted attention,” says Ankita, a second-year student from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College.

When asked if the washrooms in her college were period-friendly, Navya, her classmate, claims, “We do have dustbins to dispose of the tampons and pads, but I don’t think that the trash cans are regularly changed, which leads to bad odours. We have an automatic machine whereby inserting a minimum rupee we get a pad. Although at some point, we do feel the need to hide the pads and tampons. Men seem to make a huge deal out of them.”

Even if girls colleges are more accepting of their students’ menstrual needs, co-ed colleges really need to catch up in providing the same amenities for their students. Since some of the shame the girls feel comes from the presence of boys who are not entirely comfortable with the topic, it would perhaps prove useful to include them in seminars and discussions about periods: it may help decrease the stigma.

It is important that no matter what environment girls are studying in, they feel that their college campus is a space where they are free to learn more, make their own observations and opinions, and be honest with and about themselves.

These views and facts only hold true for the University of Delhi. India is home to many other reputed public and private universities, each of which would have their own facilities for menstruation. Each community and place has its own way of treating and talking about periods.

These traditions and practices are passed down from generation to generation. However, as girls move out of their hometowns and families for purposes of higher education, they are exposed to different attitudes and customs, some of which may directly contradict those they have grown up learning and observing.

Delhi is known for being the city where people from all over India come to fulfil their dream of a better life, loaded with new opportunities and avenues. Living independently for the first time can come with its fair share of problems and issues, and menstruation has its own too. So how do girls cope with being exposed to attitudes so different from what they have grown up with when they come to Delhi for higher education?

Source: Feminism in India

Change In The Attitude Of The New City

Delhi is one of the bigger metropolitan cities of India, which boasts of homing people of all backgrounds. Over the years, it has developed a more positive outlook compared to other parts of the country towards things like live-in relationships, queer pride, and menstruation.

Abhilasha, a second-year student from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College who shifted from Uttarakhand, says, “I was glad that people are more educated about this in Delhi. Here there’s less misinformation, and people do accept periods. Especially men, they seem to be a lot more understanding.

Due to Delhi being a relatively more progressive city, the reach to information regarding menstruation is also larger. It is easier to learn about and gain access to things related to periods which may not yet be available in other parts of the nation such as period panties and biodegradable sanitary pads. Abhilasha continues, “I came to know about menstrual cups here. I can also talk about it on a public platform without shame and the fear of being judged now.

Change In Perceptions

Living and studying in a different place from one’s hometown does bring with it a lot of change in one’s own attitudes. The exposure in the new environment can help one develop different viewpoints and build one’s own opinions away from their family.

Saagarika, a second-year student from Uttarakhand, studying in Kamala Nehru College says, “After coming to Delhi, I’ve learned not to be too embarrassed about it, and be upfront and open about any pain that I’m having instead of suffering silently and making excuses. I can now openly talk about cramps with my dad, and he’d understand and ask me to rest, so that is something that has changed. The social stigma that was attached to periods and blood used to be a thing of embarrassment for me; it is now a source of strength.”

Living alone also makes one more independent. Buying one’s own pads and tampons, dealing with the various body aches becomes something that has to be dealt with unassisted. Ankita, another second-year student from Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, who came to Delhi from West Bengal comments, “The one difference I can point out is that I really do not complain about my pains on periods anymore. Living alone in Delhi has helped me in strengthening myself.

Acquiring more awareness and developing new attitudes about menstruation in the new surroundings also does come with the responsibility of sharing those facts and reducing misinformation. Do families accept new viewpoints that their children have picked up whilst staying away?

Abhilasha replies, “I now feel that this is something that needs to be talked about more and the old people need to be educated more. Men also should be educated about it without any shame, and it should be treated as the normal biological phenomenon it is. I tried to educate my grandmother about it, and to an extent, she really seems to understand more.

But girls should not have to shift away from their families and homes in order to have access to correct and more details about their periods. It is thus vital that this information is dispensed back to the roots of ignorance.

Its youth spearheads change in society. If girls can share the positive attitudes and facts that they have learned back in their hometowns, bringing about the required change in regard to menstruation should not be a difficult task.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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
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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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