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“It’s A Shame How Most Girls Have An Uncomfortable Story To Tell About Periods”

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 not a secret that we, a country of more than 1 billion people, shy away from words like ‘menstruation’ and ‘sex’. Menstruation, a common biological process that affects about half of all humans, is regarded as ‘dirty’ in many cultures and has been looked down upon by the patriarchal society for centuries. Often, even well-read urban population regard ‘periods’ and ‘sex’ as vicious taboos.

The only few times you’d see middle-aged people talk about ‘sex’ is while nudging a newly married couple, asking them to give a ‘good news’, and about ‘periods’ when they want girls to stay away from places of worship.

A bunch of school girls looking happy
Representational Image

It’s a shame how most girls have an uncomfortable story to tell about periods. It’s not just the painful period cramps, secret alternative words for periods, and smuggling pads into washrooms but some even face terrifying experiences. Some girls experience social abandonment, 42% don’t get access to menstrual hygiene products, 1 in 5 girls are made to discontinue education.

Overall, about 70% of girls and women lack information about their periods in India. A 2014 UNICEF report pointed out that in Tamil Nadu, 79% of girls and women were unaware of menstrual hygiene practices. The percentage was 66% in Uttar Pradesh, 56% in Rajasthan and 51% in West Bengal. Only 13% of menstruating girls and women in Maharashtra knew about periods before they experience them.

Patriarchal ignorance, superstitions, taboos deprive young girls of crucial information on menstruation and the importance of menstrual hygiene. Sexual health is taught very briefly or not at all to young adolescents. But we fail to see how this is a systematic problem that needs to be looked upon immediately.

Lack of awareness has always been a problem in India’s menstrual hygiene scenario. “Women across India grow up remaining unaware of the real reasons for menstruation and the importance of menstrual hygiene. The taboo surrounding it remains a part of their growing up and continues with their daughters. Hence, the lack of awareness is carried forward via generations in India,said Supriya Khanna of Indian Council for Medical Research. Because of the lack of information and awareness, so many girls in rural settings often feel like it is a burden to be a girl and feel like their life comes to a halt when their period starts.

Well, sadly but not surprisingly, there has been significant opposition to sex education, especially in 2007, when sex education curriculum was promoted by India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development. Many opponents believed that sex education is against our ‘Indian values’.

Following this, states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Goa decided to ban sex education programmes. Dinanath Batra of the ‘Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti’, wrote a letter on behalf of the organization, stating that teachers who followed the sex-education curriculum could be jailed for two years on the charge of “outraging the modesty of a woman.

Later, over the years, sexual health education was introduced in the curriculum but only to find out that it wasn’t effectively discussed. Schools were not very helpful either as in rural areas; they refrained from discussing menstrual hygiene. A 2015 survey by the Ministry of Education found that in 63% of schools in villages, teachers never discussed menstruation and how to deal with it hygienically. In many schools, the girls are taken to separate hall and briefed about periods which leaves boys with little to no information about menstruation. This results in a society that has half of the population with no clue about what the other half is going through.

We need programmes that openly discuss menstruation, sex and STDs. Teaching the children about biological processes regarding sex, menstruation, and STDs is essential. But what is crucial and often ignored is, teaching adolescents about the socio-cultural impact of sex on our society and lives.

period awareness
Representational Image

Teaching them about consent, respecting physical boundaries, contraception, taboos etc. is often ignored. Above all, we need to provide a safe space for children to ask questions without shame and embarrassment. There should be proper menstrual hygiene sessions for parents too, along with their child, which will help us break the taboos that are set around menstruation and sex in cultures and religions over centuries.

In April 2018, a white-paper was released by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource & Development, Government of India on sexual education guidelines in school. There were specific guidelines in Ayushman Bharat Yojana for this initiative to be significant, such as giving preference to young teachers of science background, with an ability to connect to students. Well, we only hope that this makes a significant change in our conversations about periods and sexual health.

What Can We Do?

If you are a teacher/parent:

  • Take part in positive conversations with children regarding menstruation and sex.
  • Make sure you have the appropriate information in the first place.
  • Assure the child that you are a safe space where they can share any quandary without inhibitions.
  • Actively take part in abolishing superstitions and taboos regarding periods and encourage others in doing the same.
  • Demand for better sexual health education modules or propose better ones.

If you are a student:

  • Understand the importance of menstrual health and sexual health and educate yourself.
  • Make sure you have appropriate sources of information.
  • Be sensitive around issues related to it and empathize with any problems that menstruators face.
  • Not take part in anything that even remotely disrespects anyone or contributes to the patriarchal society’s vicious beliefs.
Period Shiksha Campaign
Period Shiksha Campaign

Today’s young generation will be tomorrow’s working adults that will shape the world, and we have to work towards their holistic development actively. We do not want a tomorrow of misinformed individuals. We do not want 225 million adolescent girls feeling uncomfortable, unwanted, unconfident, and uninformed about what is going on with their bodies.

We do not want girls to drop their education and dreams because of misinformation or lack of awareness. We want our girls and women to live with dignity and hope of fulfilling their dreams. We want individuals that respect consent and take responsible decisions. We want our girl child to know that she could be anything she wants to be and that a period is only an end of a sentence and not her education or her dreams or her life.

This article is a part of Period Shiksha Campaign by The Period Society. Here’s a Petition to Demand for better education modules.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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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.

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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