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“One Out Of Every Five Womxn Are Confused About What Periods Are, And I Was One Of Them”

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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.

Education is one of the best ways to empower our youth. The way young children are taught about things defines the attitude they hold towards it in future. This holds true especially when young children are taught about sensitive matters, like the changes that their body will go through during puberty, even more so when it comes to menstruation. Hence, it is of great significance to teach properly, in an open and positive environment, without traces of shame and hesitation. 

Learning About Periods

Menstrual education in India is, sadly but unsurprisingly, beyond abysmal. The inherent stigmatisation and shame that comes from talking, and thus teaching about menstruation, lead to poor imparting of crucial information and, in turn, incomplete knowledge. According to a survey on Menstrual Hygiene in India, while 97.3% of the people surveyed considered menstruation to be a biological process, 11% had no idea about this concept until they had their first period, and almost 19% were confused about it. This translates to almost one in five girls.

I was that one in five girls. It is more likely than you think that a girl you know is that one out of five girls.

Shocking? Yes. But this is just the beginning. 

When seminars are held in schools, they are held only for the girls, deepening the divide.

Though menstruation is a topic taught in schools at Class 8 level to 13-year-olds just entering adolescence, it is not something taken seriously by boys. This may derive from a combination of the way this matter is dealt with in schools by teachers, and at home by the family structure. It is common for teachers who are menstruators to shy away from teaching this the way it should be taught due to internalised shame in merely talking about menstruation. When seminars are held in schools, they are held only for the girls, deepening the divide. Even when the subject is taught well in schools, most boys are under the impression that this is not a topic they need to be bothered by, because it is a “girl problem”. 

This mental block is something that comes from the attitude of our families as well. Since they are not made familiar with menstruation in the right manner, boys find it hard to relate to this topic. They may also be privy to insensitive jokes and comments like, “Your sister is being overly emotional — is she on her period?,” which create prejudices and further hamper their understanding of it. 

Teachers need to be trained to handle this topic sensitively and students need to be tested on it. School syllabi need to be made more student-friendly and inclusive, taking in experiences of different communities and cultures. Instead of only teaching technical terms, students need to be taught the different ways of dealing with it, and health issues that may arise due to unhygienic and improper handling of the biological process.

It is also the responsibility of the school to ensure that their students are given a safe space to talk, discuss and learn about menstruation, and that there is easy access to necessities such as tampons and pads. Perhaps, a strategy such as the “mid-day meal” scheme, which incentivised students to come to school on the pretext of getting a free meal, can be devised to motivate girl students to stay in and come to school even when on their periods. This will help decrease the number of students that drop out of schools once they start menstruating. Currently, this number stands at 23%, i.e. over one in every five girls.

Young children are often much smarter than we give them credit for.

Teaching About Periods

Young children are often much smarter than we give them credit for. It is generally agreed upon by doctors and experts that by the time children turn 8-9 years old, they gain the ability to understand the concept of menstruation in simplistic terms. The average age of children hitting puberty is decreasing all over the world, and this makes it all the more important for children to be aware of and prepared for the changes their bodies will go through.

When teaching girls about periods, whether at home or school, it is important to reinforce it as a necessary yet good change. Yes, periods come with their fair share of problems such as cramps, headaches and mood swings, but they are a part of the wonderful process that enables them to have children and become mothers some day if they wish to. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. 

Children’s curiosities are already piqued due to advertisements for sanitary napkins on television. This can be a good place to start the conversation about periods. Even if they don’t ask there, it is up to the parents to ensure that they educate their children about the subject. By doing this, children get to know that they can discuss such topics with their parents. They know that if they want to know more about menstruation or need solutions to their menstrual problems, they have a place to go to. An open conversation like this allows for barriers regarding such topics to be broken down, leading girls and boys to get more comfortable with the topic. 

The lack of conversation, especially within the family structure, is one of the reasons why children and later women, hesitate to talk about periods openly. Teaching and learning about menstruation can be improved to a major extent by an open conversation. If such topics are normalised at the home and family level, girl will feel more confident talking about it at a public level or in public spaces. In school spaces, they will learn to interact on this topic with people from different backgrounds about different traditions and myths that need to be debunked. 

In order to create a future generation that is not stigmatised by the mere mention of menstruation, it is vital that comprehensive education is provided at a young age starting now. This passing on of proper information about periods is what will help create a world where anyone can ask anything about the menstrual cycle, and not feel embarrassed by it. 

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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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