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The Menstrual Awareness Campaigns I Organised In College Helped Me Shed My Own Hesitation

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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.

We are all socialised to treat menstruation as a hush-hush topic. Calling it ‘that day of the month’, ‘being sick’ or ‘being down’ create a boundary and sense of ignorance that often regresses into stigmas and taboos.

I am from an all-girls school where we were free to address these topics and felt no pressure to be conscious of our surroundings. Entering a co-ed college, somehow, questioned my confidence in addressing such issues and brought a bit of hesitation in me. However, being a student member of the Corporate Social Responsibility Club of Amity Law School, Delhi, played a significant role in bringing change in myself and around me.

Donation Drive To Awareness Campaign — Sahodaya Initiative

In March 2018, what began as a donation drive for menstrual products paved the way to upscale it to an awareness campaign. ‘During society discussions, members unanimously decided that to create a significant impact, the initiative could not be limited to collection drives,’ said Ridhi, a fifth-year law student and member of the club.

It was decided that besides collecting money, the initiative required to pay attention to stereotypes related to menstruation. For that purpose, the campaign was divided into three days, before which members had to invite, encourage and ensure maximum participation from students, college staff and faculty members. We aimed to not only touch the surface of the topic, but also question our belief system.

Image has been provided by the author.

During that time, we announced in classes the importance of the campaign and encouraged students and staff members to participate. We discussed how menstrual products are expensive and not every menstruator can afford them.

On the first day, a call-out was announced in our department to attract attention for the drive. We set up a photo booth along with a donation booth. Several placards with hashtags and quotes were laid for people to engage themselves, and donate money and sanitary napkins for the cause.

Besides this, as we focused to drive out the stigmas and break hesitation, even non-menstruating students and teachers were encouraged to buy sanitary napkins from our shops for donations.

On the second day, volunteers dressed in white and red conducted a march around the University Campus. Questioning the representation of menstrual blood in advertisements, we shouted our slogans, ‘Neela nahi, neela nahi, mera khoon laal hai’ and ‘I am not down.’

On a personal level, I also began saying, ‘I am on my periods’ instead of calling it ‘being down’.

A small skit/act was also presented wherein each person had a stereotype placard pinned to their clothes and encircled around another person, who was attached to all others with ropes. As Ritika Prasad, another member, stated, ‘The idea was to portray how a woman is involuntarily tied to such baseless arguments around something natural.’

A question-answer round was also conducted on both days to realise the degree of menstrual awareness amongst people. Questions on myths, scientific awareness and certain practices observed during periods were asked to students.

A Mixed Experience

Social media campaigns and the release of movies such as Padman accelerated our efforts. Since it was never supposed to be an all-girls campaign, the response was overwhelming in terms of participation. Photo booths helped us in grabbing attention towards the cause; several male students and professors bought sanitary napkins and shared their experience.

Skit. Image has been provided by the author.

Harpal, another member, articulated his experience of buying sanitary napkins, ‘It was enlightening. Through the campaign, I realised that our orthodox mentality towards menstruation hasn’t changed. When I went to buy the napkin, the inquisitive eyes of the chemist could tell that it was not something usually bought by a male. He further wrapped it in a black polythene bag, which showed that the product is supposed to be hidden. It is a taboo.’

When it came to the question-answer round, we felt that although ignorance still exists in terms of general awareness about menstruation, people were taking time to respond to the questions. As Ridhi shared, ‘I was moved by how openly everyone was discussing and sharing their experiences. Talks that were otherwise limited to some people were being done openly. In particular, I remember one guy shared that he had an elder sister and when she got her periods for the first time, their mother explained to both of them about it, which is something you don’t usually expect to happen in an Indian household.

The session also helped us in bursting myths and reaching out to people one on one. Rishu Bhardwaj, another member, shared his experience: ‘The idea of representing it through our platform got us the opportunity to spread the right information about menstruation. I also got to know about many new facts on the said topic, which felt compelling to me.

No More Hush-Hush. Can We Ignite A Conversation? 

In most families, brothers or fathers are often excluded from knowing that their sisters or daughters are menstruating, often staying away from them during their periods. We cannot disregard menstruation to be associated with a particular gender only. Everyone, irrespective of whether they menstruate or not, must be aware of the whys, hows and whats of menstruation. This is what sensitisation means — where no girl has to whisper to get menstrual products around the campus; where no non-menstruator is clueless about the natural process and its needs.

I feel that sensitisation starts from home, taboos start from households, and a lot can be changed if mothers or daughters teach their sons and brothers, educate them and also include them in process to do away with stigmas. Often, mothers don’t ask their sons to buy menstrual products due to fear of judgement. I studied that a cramp can sometimes be as painful as a heart attack. There is need for a more sympathetic and open approach, and not a time to judge,’ shared Harpal.

Image has been provided by the author.

Often, this exclusion leads to ignorance, silence or a clueless response from them. Many female students shared their experience where periods were a giggling topic and students in school often teased them for carrying napkins.

Nimisha, a dedicated member of our club who has graduated, reminisced her experience, ‘Participation of male members with equal energy and sensitivity was unique and encouraging.’ She further shared her school experience where class monitors were all boys and the whole class was laughing when a sanitary napkin was taken out from her bag. ‘At that time, I felt embarrassed. Now that I think about it, I feel I should have given the whole class a lecture on the consequences of this attitude. It’s a really small thing, but I still feel frustrated. Especially because the teacher didn’t felt the need to talk to them about this.

The Fight Is Not Over Yet

The money collected was used in buying menstrual products and donated to an NGO associated with the CSR club of the college, followed by an awareness session for adolescents.

Several other sessions related to menstrual awareness continued to be conducted in college, including alternatives to sanitary napkins. However, as Ritika put it, ‘I had this sense of incompleteness when I thought that we had only donated a few pads to a few women. What will happen when they are finished? Would they go back to using cloth rags? Would they care to maintain hygiene when they don’t even have proper washrooms? It didn’t seem like a permanent solution, but I just felt satisfied by saying that it’s a start and hoped that they would at least think about the stereotypical aspect of it.’ 

Less than 20% of menstruators have access to sanitary napkins, which further gets skewed into urban and rural numbers. The lockdown has reduced this accessibility to only 15% of the menstruating population. As many as 23 million girls drop out of schools due to menstruation. This is because of the stigma of dealing with impurity or uncleanness during periods, and lack of access to menstrual products and hygiene.

It is still a long way to go, and sensitisation and inclusion can help in fighting against the myths and taboos.

GRATITUDE CORNER: I would like to thank every member and participant for making the campaign and this write-up possible. Thank you.

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