By Volunteer Mitali Kulkarni, FHI Mumbai
All countries where women are empowered, those countries are called developed nations. Countries where women are not empowered are called developing and underdeveloped nations – says the real Pad-man of India, Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham.
A 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled ‘Spot On!’ found that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities. As per National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4) conducted among girls in the age group of 15-24 years in India, only 58% girls use a hygienic method of menstrual protection (which includes locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins or tampons as opposed to old pieces of cloth, socks and sand). Due to lack of awareness, unavailability of functional toilets, or even the overall hush-hush treatment given to something which is a normal bodily function, many young girls do not have access to the most basic hygienic requirement.
However, even on an individual level if we try to open up, create a dialogue, encourage others to talk about menstruation and successfully bid adieu to the shame or discomfort that instantly shows up on a young girl’s face when asked about her periods then it would be the first step towards breaking the ice.
We as a community need to be involved to bring about this change. Which means that not only girls but even boys should be made aware about menstruation. By being ignorant towards it, a big part of the community which can actually bring about some change at even the household level is missing out on contributing towards the betterment of their female counterparts at home, schools or workplaces. Talking about menstruation would no longer be considered as a taboo if people, irrespective of their gender, speak openly about it. One such example is that of a boy from Uttar Pradesh who has started an NGO called ‘My PadBank’ which works towards menstrual hygiene management.
We have a platform wherein we are able to connect with adolescents and interact with them. A questionnaire would be helpful to understand whether the children in the age group of 11-15 years at the organizations we work with are made aware about menstruation. Normal questions would include whether they have learned about periods, how to use and dispose sanitary products, whether there is awareness about how it has an impact on their health and overall well-being. We can prepare informative videos which could be shared with the girls to educate them and they can also share their doubts, fears or experiences with our volunteers.
One of the reasons that girls drop out of schools post commencement of menstruation is the high cost of sanitary products. Government in its efforts to encourage good menstrual hygiene practices has assured availability of sanitary pads at Janaushadhi Kendras across the country at a price of Re. 1 each. There are also NGOs which are actively contributing by making available sanitary products by collecting the pads from people who wish to contribute and distributing them among marginalized sections. ‘Menstrupedia Comic’ is an innovative approach by an NGO based in Ahmedabad which is a specially designed informative comic for young girls to help them learn about periods. These are available in digital as well as print versions and are being distributed among schools and NGOs across India and overseas too.
28th May is celebrated as World Menstrual Hygiene day. We can mark the day each year and conduct one on one workshops with girls to learn about the difficulties they may be facing like not enough knowledge, hesitance in using the sanitary products available or any difficulty to access them. Volunteers can prepare their own testimonials about their experiences – like when did they first learn about menstruation, how they learned about it, any specific incidents which they would like to share. These testimonials would be helpful to encourage girls to share their own experiences.
As rightly said by James Baldwin, “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world.” Having a conversation about menstruation may not be easy at first, given the deep rooted beliefs attached to it. But it is a small step I’m willing to take if it is going to make even one girl’s life easier. Period!