In a recent study by Lysaght involving ~100,000 girls in India, almost half of them did not know about menstruation, until the first time they got their period. And, the experience for the first time is worry and confusion, as they feel scared seeing blood or feeling pain, thinking it is a disease that could lead to death. It is essential for them to learn about menstruation, to be prepared and accepting it as normal as well as speak freely without feeling embarrassed. Girls are often left uninformed or even misinformed on menstruation. Many of them feel ashamed (or uncomfortable) asking questions on a number of days, source of blood, available products, and method to use/dispose of. During these challenging times, these girls need accurate information and support to freely express their feelings of anxiety or stress during periods.
To raise awareness and fighting the stigma around menstruation, we held a week-long online awareness program on Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May 2021). It was structured as a workshop, with activities to understand menstruation, puberty, and human body science. The session was attended by ~125 girls from Chennai, Delhi, Pune, Nagpur, and nearby areas like Hinghanghat and Wani.
All participants were asked to prepare for the online session, to think about their feeling during menstruation. As part of the workshop activity, they expressed that feeling by drawing on an art paper and explaining the thoughts process around it. The staggering pictures or arts created by the girls\ surprised us all together, as many girls (especially those who are experiencing it the first time) believed that menstruation is bad.
Discrimination against menstruating women is widespread in India, where periods have long been taboo and considered impure. They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples/shrines, and even kept out of kitchens. It was shocking to hear from the girls that their mothers and elder sisters restricted them and shared what is allowed vs prohibited. As part of the workshop discussion, we discussed with girls on their recent experience and any impact with COVID. She was vocal to express the impact. “I was discriminated just because I got period. It is considered taboo in my home and community. I saw many girls (elder) and mothers of my friends not cooking, going out, and having separate rooms during menstruation. The schools were closed due to COVID which had imposed constraints on us but menstruation during COVID was unthinkable for me as it caused so much depression and loneliness. There is no freedom for girls and women in communities during menstruation and I want to create a society in which every girl has freedom.”
As a part of our advocacy about menstruation, and to reach a broader scale, we held a live session on Instagram where we sought to bring awareness on menstrual hygiene to everyone who can help this movement against the stigma surrounding periods, irrespective of age, sex or location. An expert, Dr. Rajani Gupta from Alexis multispecialty hospital, Nagpur was invited to answer the queries regarding menstruation. It was an interactive live session where Dr. Gupta spoke about ways in which women can take care of themselves and how men can help and support them. We reached out to more than 200 individuals during our live session.
Our goal was to ensure that no girl feels left behind and hence included members and coaches from DeafKidz Goal. A special session was held for deaf girls and women from our operational communities, where we interacted with them in sign language and conducted activities such as the bracelet awareness activity to promote inclusivity.
As the second lockdown was imposed and COVID 2 nd wave was spreading widely in rural parts of Nagpur, we distributed hygiene kits among girls for whom access to the menstrual products was challenging during the lockdown.
We raised awareness to end the stigma around periods. At the end of the awareness program, a survey was conducted on how girls feel about periods. Survey results were clear that >75% acknowledged it to be a normal process and feels positive about it, after taking part in our menstrual hygiene workshops. All of us took a pledge that we will remain together during difficult times and support each other to be stronger.