Have you ever seen a group of young girls talk about one of most tabooed topics in our country – menstruation – and that too amongst strangers? Well, this did not happen in a metropolitan city like Delhi, but in a remote residential village school for tribal girls in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh.
During a recent visit to Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), a residential school for tribal girls in Vijilapuram village in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, I witnessed some very interesting instances that are a strong proof that positive change is taking place in some of the most marginalised communities of India.
While in general there is a stigma and a feeling of ‘shame’ in talking about one of the most common biological processes – menstruation – a group of 12-14 year old girls did not express even a bit of inhibition in addressing the largely ‘tabooed’ issue. They discussed with ease the physical problems they faced, the social pressure they undergo, the struggles with regard to attending school during menstruation and the importance of having toilets to maintain hygiene and dignity in public spaces as well as at home for such critical days.
This Government School for Girls has adopted relevant practices in order to discuss sensitive issues like menstruation with young adolescents, and thus provides them with a platform to step forward and speak their mind out. The highlight of such practices is the mere fact that even though these girls come from extremely conservative families, they are now open to discussing problems they face and seek solutions as well.
Awareness, Acceptance, and Assurance
During a group discussion in school, with over 200 girls as participants, they shared ways by which they address such issues. From the age of 12, the girls are informed about menstruation and puberty. As they grow up, they are encouraged to spread the knowledge amongst their peers, younger siblings, and family members to gain acceptance in the society.
Interestingly, the girls from KGBV showcased a role play for us, demonstrating the taboos associated with menstruation. Extremely confident and articulate, they covered topics like gender discrimination, gender roles, such as the sole responsibility of only women to fetch water for household consumption, as well as the plight of girls who are forced to miss school every month due to lack of decent toilets and good hygiene practices.
Can you imagine girls dropping out of schools, at the age of 14-15 years, due to the lack of basic hygiene facilities? Their dreams and aspirations come to a standstill, with no fault of theirs!
Keeping in mind all these issues, not only are the girls regularly informed about Menstrual Hygiene Management, but the school authorities are also forced to improve the facilities so that no girl forgoes her dreams.
Making ‘No Shame’ a reality
What was most impressive was the mechanism set up in a way to spread by entirely working with young girls. These kids have their own way of discussing difficult issues and seeking solutions for the same.
This visit was an eye opener as well as an assurance that communities around these girls as well as the future generations of this village would surely be more accepting and understanding regarding life-changing biological issues of young girls and associated social views. Soon, boys and girls will be taught alike and treated alike. This inspiring transformation has also led to the local leaders being motivated who are now more sensitive to such issues and are working towards creating cleaner spaces for girls and women.
This truly exemplifies a wonderful example of following the path of ‘No Shame!’ in menstruation – a thought that we hope to achieve with each and every strata and segment of the society one day.
Vikas Kataria is Director – Resource Mobilisation at WaterAid India.