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Taking Home Tuitions, Organising Baithaks For All: It Takes A Village In UP To Talk Periods

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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.

In the Mishroli village of Uttar Pradesh, Pinky, Rinku and Aarti get together at Pinky’s tailoring centre. They update each other with their day-to-day, discuss their period and spend the rest of the time stitching cloth pads, which they will sell later that day.

Most of the womxn in the village use these cloth pads today, but this wasn’t the case a few years ago. Twenty-seven-year-old Tara Rani, who got married into the village 10 years ago, took us to that time: “When I came to Mishroli for the first time, no one was even talking about periods. Women would laugh at the mention of maasik (Hindi for periods) or shy away. They would not even take its name.”

Today, 20-year-old Pinki, 18-year-old Rinku and 17-year-old Aarti are not just well-aware of what menstruation means, but also talk about it with others and sell cloth pads to earn a little side income.

Rinku and Pinky | Image credit: People Powered Digital Narratives (PPDN)

This started when, after the pandemic was announced, Pinky and her parents started stitching masks with leftover cotton cloth at their silai centre. “A few months later, we realised that the cloth pieces can be used in a similar fashion to stitch into cloth pads,” she said.

Her friends Aarti and Rinku joined her in this and together, the three of them started meeting whenever they would find the time to stitch pads. Each pad takes 2-3 hours to make. Titbits of cotton cloth pieces are collected and washed thoroughly with Dettol. Once they’re dry, the girls stitch together 6-8 layers of cloth into one pad.

Once the girls introduced the pads to the womxn, they found the pricing quite favourable. The cheapest single-use sanitary pads available in the market costs Rs 25-30 for six pads. Comparatively, Pinky’s cloth pads are priced at Rs 8-10 per eight pads. “Most girls wear plastic-based sanitary pads only when they have to go outdoors to school, college or for work. But when home, they prefer using cloth pads only,” said Tara.

Pinky, Aarti and Rinku make cloth pads and sell them to the women of their village at an affordable price. Representational image.

Pinki was proud to point out that since womxn buy pads from their personal allowance, often, the money saved by purchasing cloth pads can instead be used to buy notebooks for their kids.

It is unfortunate, then, that these notebooks find no use in schools in learning about menstruation. Rinku completed her schooling from the only senior secondary school in the vicinity of her village. “We were never taught about menstruation properly by our teacher,” she said. Most of what they have learnt has come from women teachers who take home tuitions.

Teaching Menstruation At Homes

One such teacher is 34-year-old Sunita Devi, who teaches kids who may or may not be going to school. “I introduce menstruation to girls once they turn 10. I prepare them for their first period, talking to them about how they shouldn’t feel scared or shy away from telling their parents when they reach menarche. We also focus on maintaining personal hygiene especially during those days,” said Sunita.

Sunita Devi uses stories, plays and films to teach menstrual lessons to girls. Representational image.

But explaining a topic as remote as menstruation is not a child’s play. “Initially, everyone feels uncomfortable during the lessons. So, I teach them through the medium of stories, plays and films to kindle their curiosity. I find videos on YouTube that explain menstruation to the girls and bring sanitary pads to the class to show them,” she added.

The younger generation is quick to grasp these lessons and further spread awareness among their friends, but their older counterparts are still on a learning curve.

“My colleagues and I organise 2-3 baithaks for the villagers every month. While some are attended by all to discuss health and sanitation issues, some are meant only for women,” said Tara, who is a part of Samudaik Kalyan Evam Vikas Sansthan (SKVS), a village collective that brought the villagers together in 2014 and encouraged them to take responsibility of their problems.

Aarti | Image credit: People Powered Digital Narratives (PPDN)

These baithaks are a great platform for women to speak up about domestic violence and alcoholic husbands, as well as painful periods. The women had no such space earlier to allow women to discuss issues of one another. “Women in these baithaks talk about their experience with menopause, irregular periods, and infection. We suggest home remedies such as using salt water to wash infected areas or drinking warm ajwain water (carom) to soothe period cramps,” said Tara. Pinki added that personal hygiene is given a lot of importance in these baithak conversations. “Bathe twice a day. Change your cloth pad every two hours. Boil it before your next use,” she chanted.

While these conversations must also be had with the doctors and gynaecologists in the village hospital, it’s hard to catch one around. The nearest PHC is four kilometres away in the Dudahi block. “The gynaecologist appointed at the PHC visits our village twice in one month. We can ask her about her problems, but she usually is not the one to bring up conversations around menstrual awareness,” said Aarti. She mentioned that most of the groundwork in educating people is done by ASHA workers.

Where Are The Boys?

Despite increasing menstrual awareness in girls and womxn, one big challenge remains. They are expected to live through their periods alone in their house, without being able to share it with the rest of the family, in some cases not even with their mothers. “We can tell our friends and sisters while on our period, and sometimes our mother, but neither our brother nor our father has ever been a part of such a conversation with us,” said Rinku.

Even if teachers such as Sunita try to introduce menstruation in the classroom, boys get uncomfortable and object to being taught something that doesn’t concern them. But is it important at all for the boys and men of the village to know about a womxn’s problem?

“Yes. Unless men know that their wives/daughters/sisters are on her period, they will never understand their physical vulnerability in those days and their need for rest. They keep pressuring them with more domestic chores instead of supporting their condition,” said Amarnath, who works as a coordinator with SKVS.

Tara added that though married men know what menstruation is and take their wives to the doctor for any treatment, most of the young boys have little to no knowledge of the biological phenomenon. They only understand it by the term “stomach ache”.

The womxn of Mishroli have set a great example of leadership by presenting a community-based solution to menstrual awareness. From discussing the right pad to use to addressing domestic pressure during periods and teaching ways of maintaining personal hygiene, the womxn are quick to adapt any new information. The work done by their collective over the past seven years goes on to show that if provided with the right tools, women from within communities can take responsibility and become changemakers.

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