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How This Community In Jaisalmer Learnt About Periods

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Soon after completing my Master’s in Philosophy from the University of Delhi, I was looking for a PhD in India and outside when I came across different fellowship opportunities. So, after deep contemplation, I joined the Gandhi Fellowship. My parents, like other Indian parents, were startled but supportive. Later, after recognizing my efforts, their perspective did change, and their concerns changed into admiration.

Girls listening to a MHM session in Jaisalmer
This school was located in the interiors, 15 kms from the city, with sand instead of roads and no direct means of commuting.

I was assigned to the Aspirational District Transformation Program in partnership with NITI Aayog at Block Pokaran, Jaisalmer, which changed my life for good. My journey started with the allocation of GUPS Nai Mangoli, Pokaran. This school was located in the interiors, 15 kms from the city, with sand instead of roads and no direct means of commuting.

This panchayat comprised mainly of the Muslim Community, who accepted me as their own, made me feel at home and tied me with lifelong relations with them. Unfortunately, on completing my tenure, I had to leave behind the feeling of leaving home once again, with sad young faces and teary little eyes, standing in front of the school waving goodbyes, with millions of unsaid promises of meeting again.

During different activities during my tenure, like field support, I observed that even though Jaisalmer is amongst India’s most beautiful (and one of the largest) desert districts, it holds its culture and traditions well. Still, somehow these traditions being so close-knitted creates social barriers that hinder social change and thus give birth to social evils like child marriages, early pregnancies, and health issues for young mothers (pre and postnatal).

Girls listening to a MHM session in Jaisalmer
This gave birth to ‘आओ बोलें PERIOD.’, an awareness campaign for Menstrual Hygiene Management and Gender Sensitization.

During my primary research in more than 33 schools and their communities, I observed that young girls drop out after class VIII, at the onset of puberty. This gave birth to ‘आओ बोलें PERIOD‘, an awareness campaign for Menstrual Hygiene Management and Gender Sensitization.

District Magistrate Namit Mehta recognized the campaign and later was implemented throughout the block by the Chief Block Education Officer on International Women’s Day, 2020. The campaign also collaborated with other stakeholders like the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the Chief Block Education Officer.

In just three months, the campaign impacted 3600+ school girls, 512 block-level teachers, 265 anganwadi workers, and 360 community members in 14 panchayats at block Pokaran by conducting seven block-level events and workshops.

But true satisfaction came when a mother and a grandmother extended their blessings, saying, “I wish there were someone who could have told me about the biological cycle, periods and how I was not impure while I was growing up.” I would visit schools and community centres, where young boys would come up to me with stories of their sisters being married at an early age or who were forced to drop out and help with household chores. Still, their brothers were encouraged to study even if they had to send the boys to far off cities in private schools. Brothers were keen to share their books or notes with sisters, but the impact was little.

The Fellowship did allow me to meet strong women too, who would keep the reproductive control in their hands as they were sensitized to the benefits of having a small healthy family. They would mention their experiences while growing up and how being educated has made them aware of themselves and the importance of saying ‘No’.

During my various workshops, I would find young girls curious and shy while asking about their bodies and changes. But I would also find girls who would come out and ask me about pregnancy and the concept of virginity. Being engaged at a very young age creates questions in young minds about sex and related taboos. With me being present there, answering their queries without any judgment, initiating conversations with taboo subjects in a place known for ‘women under veils’, I provided them with the opportunity to find me as a trustworthy yet unconventional person, which somehow proved beneficial.

Girls listening to a MHM session in Jaisalmer
They would mention their experiences while growing up and how being educated has made them aware of themselves and the importance of saying ‘No’.

The most exciting phase of my journey was when I got the opportunity to facilitate in front of 150 B.Ed interns, block-level teachers, and anganwadi workers. I felt like I left my mark in the hearts of young children, community and front line workers amid the Thar desert with a loving name of ‘Rakhi didi aayi hai‘, to be remembered by. Moreover, the two weddings that I was invited for, dressing up in Rajasthani attire, really made me embrace the culture to the core.

Being a Philosophy student, I understood the theories of Buddha, Aristotle, Descartes and Socrates. The journey also created a self-reliant attitude within me, which made me prone to the need for external validation. Lastly, I feel indebted to the love and support of students, teachers, community members, and my Gandhi Fellowship family, which transformed me as a human and made my journey fruitful with a treasure of life lessons, memorable remembrances experiences, and lifelong relationships that I would cherish.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

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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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