Globally, 28th May is observed as Menstrual Hygiene Day to call attention to and normalise menstruation. This year organisations, governments, stakeholders, media and celebrities are getting behind one message that there is #NoShame in menstruation.
Even today, girls and women continue to face significant challenges in managing their periods in a safe and hygienic manner because of low levels of awareness about menstruation and menstrual hygiene, lack of access to safe products, and lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene services. Underlying this are widely held beliefs that consider menstruation to be polluting and menstruating girls and women as impure.
Kiran Sankhwai is a 37 years old woman residing in Madhya Pradesh. Kiran lives with her three daughters - Monika (18), Tanya (17) and Charumita (5). The girls always questioned the various menstrual hygiene taboos, yet followed them so as to not offend anyone. Women spend around six to seven years of their lives menstruating. Yet the importance of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is mostly neglected in our society. Kiran and her growing daughters were forced to stay away from other members of the family during the span of those 5-6 days. They were told that if they touch anyone, that person would fall ill, and if they touched any food item it would go bad. “Until 2 years back, we used to believe that during menstruation, a female is not supposed to touch others. We had to even wait for somebody to fetch us water or give us food,” shared Monika. But the girls were always inquisitive to learn about the facts of menstruation. “When we were sensitised about menstruation, and that is not impure or unhealthy, we tried to touch people without informing them that we were menstruating. We were surprised to see that none of them actually fell ill,” recalls Monika. A very common practice in most households is to isolate the girl while she is menstruating. Menstruation is often treated to be a disease, whereas it is the other way round. “We realised that menstruation is not a disease. We just need to ensure good personal hygiene. Every time I enter a kitchen, I wash my hands properly,” shared Monika. Another major issue prevailing in our society is that menstruation is not discussed in the open. The topic is kept so secretively that majority of the adolescent girls are shocked when they get their first period. “...It has been really empowering and now we can openly discuss women’s issues with anyone in the community. My daughters can talk to me openly about menstruation related doubts and I feel good about it,” remarked Kiran.
Menstrual hygiene is a topic that many women are uncomfortable discussing in public, and 34-year-old Usha Sahu was not different. Usha has been working as an Anganwadi worker since 2007. Like all women, Usha was also ignorant towards differentiating between the myths and facts regarding various social issues, menstruation being a major one. Even though she worked as an Anganwadi worker, she followed various taboos, such as not worshipping God while menstruating. Years later Usha became a part of Udita Corner. It was launched by Directorate ICDS, Madhya Pradesh and WaterAid India. Udita Corners have been set up to increase hygiene awareness amongst adolescent girls. It is spread over 22000 Anganwadis in Madhya Pradesh, and through these corners, 96000 girls are provided with information on menstrual hygiene management. "Udita Corner is a great awareness tool. Over the last 4 years, I have received various training on menstrual hygiene which has helped me get rid of the various social taboos existing in our society,” shared Usha. “I even tell girls coming to the Anganwadis to not follow any such taboos, and make informed decisions,” she adds. Although the project seems to have touched the lives of many girls and women, but the journey has never been easy. Most women were unable to accept the various facts about menstruation, which they always believed never existed. The challenge of convincing older women to treat all menstruating women equally with others was hard to fight. “Initially, a few mothers used to come complaining that I am teaching wrong things to the girls. After repeated sessions and talks with them, I was finally able to convince them with logic," claims Usha. This initiative also helps in imparting information about hygiene and proper health management during periods. The girls are also informed about anaemia and its cure. “Few key things that I ensure girls understand are hygiene and nutrition requirements in their body,” shared Usha. Usha is one amongst the many others who are doing their bit to create awareness about menstruation. With such combined efforts, sensitivity towards such issues is being generated. “In this community, I always wanted to work in an Anganwadi. This is my way of giving back to the society,” remarks a humble Usha.
“Two-three days before I get my periods, I used to feel ill, thinking what to use during those days because there was no cotton cloth. Whenever I think about it, I get a headache. When my periods start I take any thing from my house. I have old cushions, pillow covers and bed sheets to use for periods. Due to that many times I have been scolded and even beaten up by my mother but what do I do? Once in anger I didn’t have food for two days. When I asked my classmate for pads, she said, these are not for free. These are very costly. She had got them from the market. I feel sick and often pray to God to stop my periods forever." shares Shalu, daughter of a horse cart driver from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Her father’s income was barely enough to meet the daily needs of the family. The unbearable trauma in Shalu’s words makes you think if she had enough cloth, would menses still be a monthly disaster for her? Many Shalus’ in India and the rest of the world have similar stories of desperation, shame, unhealthy practices, compulsion and silence. Over the years the team at Goonj has understood how women don’t have enough pads to deal with this basic but not enough is talked about the shame and indignity women go through. To know what you can further do about this issue, click here - https://goo.gl/qic1c8 And to mainstream the issue, start by sharing your voice at https://goo.gl/9jzMvx