Menstruation is one of the oldest and most far-reaching taboos. Especially in India and across South Asia, the reluctance to speak about periods is widespread, resulting in worryingly low education and awareness – particularly among the demographic of adolescent girls, of whom India has some 120 million. A recent study for Menstrual Hygiene Day reported that 1 out of 3 school girls across South Asia was not aware of periods before experiencing one for the first time, and only 2.5% of the same group knew that menstrual blood came from the uterus. If menstrual hygiene is not given importance, it will raise the risk of reproductive infections and affect the health of millions of girls who are unaware of the stark consequences.
Therefore, to realize the importance of Menstrual education , series of phase wise menstrual modules were undertaken at Protsahan to impart the necessary knowledge about Menstruation. Also, initiating interactive discussions helped to bust the myths and taboos related to Menstruation and thereby broadened the knowledge of girls.
Phase 1: KOMAL – A film on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) – Hindi by CHILDLINE India Foundation,(NGO) in India that operates a telephone helpline called Childline, for children in distress was shown to the girls by sharing real life stories. It explains the concept of safe and unsafe touch, so that they can be better equipped to protect themselves and take help from trusted adults if ever caught in a similar situation. An open and safe space was provided to discuss the magnitude of the problem and conceptualize suitable solutions. It was imperative to address the issue by using the visual media to clearly convey the message and build understandability.
Phase 2: Using the Hello Periods! (Hindi) – Menstrupedia Menstrual Awareness Workshop Video , an open source by Menstrupedia to spread the knowledge of periods.
In order to break the silence and the stigma attached to this forbidden word, a session as a part of ‘Project Light Bulb’ instituted by Protsahan India Foundation was conducted by Sakshi, an expert volunteer and our fabulous grassroot teacher Payal. Using technology and storytelling as a learning tool, the topic was discussed with the help of Menstrupedia Hindi YouTube Tutorial Video and Menstrupedia Comic which is a colorful, fun and accessible guide to menstruation, following the journey of three young girls and their experiences with periods. Each character represents a stage of adolescence — girls who haven’t started their period yet and want to learn more about them; girls who have just started their period and want advice on how to prepare for them; and girls who have had periods for some time and might be curious about the myths surrounding them.
The session started with an introduction about the topic and was followed by a quiz round where in girls were asked to pick a chit from a bunch of chits with questions related to the lessons taught. This not only helped them to recall what was learnt but also gave us a scope to resolve their doubts and queries. Stories were shared between one another and basic hygiene practices were discussed to make the girls proactive and self aware about their body and health. It guided them to understand the importance of taking good care of their body by inculcating healthy habits in their daily lives to remain happy, healthy and safe. The session was a source of enlightenment for the girls as it instilled the confidence in them for the acceptance of natural body functions, and the need for cleanliness so that their school and social lives are never interrupted. The session ended with a happy note and a sense of empowerment was reflected through their faces.
Phase 3: Collaboration with Shades of Happiness Foundation to broaden the knowledge of Menstruation.
In order to develop an in depth understanding related to Menstruation, a session was held at Protshan by expert volunteers Garima and Noopur to broaden the knowledge and understandability of the female reproductive system. The workshop started with introductions and then the students were shown a video ‘Hello Periods’ by Menstrupedia again to engage with the students and resolve their queries. The video was paused after every topic for simultaneous discussion.
The girls were extremely responsive and eager to get more knowledge. They were able to name all the three openings of vagina. One of the attendees who had attended the session earlier on the same topic had doubt about how to wash private parts. Girls didn’t have much knowledge about how to remove pubic hair but showed interest in knowing about the methods being taught by the volunteers. All of them were vocal on many topics like how to dispose sanitary pads and one should wash hands after throwing. The use of tissue paper for discharge color change seemed to be a new topic for them.
Without any hesitation they asked questions which they felt was unanswered or they felt shy about whom should they ask. They were able to answer the questions clearly put up by us even though they were familiar to the Menstrupedia video.
“Sharam” and “Haya” are still words used to condemn conversations about menstruation. Thus, we certainly believe that there is an urgent need to bring conversations about menstruation with all its associated silence, stigma and myths out in the open. It is especially important to break the silence on this topic, so that millions of young girls every year don’t see their period as a disability, but a natural, normal part of their lives.
We, women, are the bringers of new life into the world, and our periods are a part of that process. Together we will dismantle taboos around menstruation, to free women from the society’s cultural confinement.
Menstruation matters to education, to boys and men, health, progress, to all areas of life and most importantly, YOU matter to menstruation: yes – that’s right, you. Whether you get your period or not, you can play an important role in breaking the silence around menstruation. Strike up a conversation, share a story, ask a question or simply just put it out there – Menstruation Matters!
Co-authored by Sakshi Sharma and Noopur Lakra.