'Jab mahavari sansar ki utpatti ka madhyam hai, toh fir isme sharmindgi kis baat kii?' (Translation: When menstruation triggers genesis of life on earth, then why stigma attached to it?)
Anjali, a young Jagrik (a wordplay of two Hindi terms Jagruk & Nagrik; represents self-aware, awakened, active citizen) undergoing a self to society journey on 'constitutional literacy' with Bewajah Samiti in Uttar Pradesh, poses this question for the world to answer.
Anjali was born in a very conservative family residing in rural landscape of Behta near Lucknow. During her childhood, she too like many of her friends got accustomed to staying silent on the subject as instructed by her family members, especially the ladies of the house. The onset of menstruation for her was followed with the usual practice of hesitation, shame and stigma. One couldn't go into the kitchen, not touch 'achaar' and many similar such food items, not enter places of worship, not wash their hair, not bathe in the common bathrooms and the list goes on! The idea that girls and women are 'dirty' or 'impure' during their periods was heavily propagated.
It was during her years in college where she realised the importance of menstruation and the need for hygienic menstrual practices. She learnt that during their periods, women's vulnerability towards potentially life-threatening ailments increases. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to many issues, such as fungal or bacterial infections of the reproductive tract and the urinary tract. And the practices in her village were ghastly. More so, due to the 'hush hush' around even mentioning the word 'period'!
She realised that the prevalent silence on the subject was a silent killer of women as they felt ashamed in seeking menstrual hygiene and health. With this lens on, soon she realised that the issue was deep-rooted across the system where even a pharmacist sells a sanitary pad wrapped in an opaque black cover. With a deep empathy with the women in her community and having personally experienced these vicious norms herself, Anjali felt the need to work towards re-instating dignity to this natural physiological process and the ones who undergo menstruation every month!
The #GenNationBuilding: Youth Duties and Rights Draft Declaration places the 'Right to safe and inclusive spaces' for all young people as an imperative for nation building. Once Anjali had such a space, during her Jagrik journey…a space where she felt heard, understood and supported, it took her no time to take on a mission to turn tides on the social taboos attached to menstruation in her community.
The Phase 2 of this programme, called 'Jabasdast Jagrik' is being executed in Uttar Pradesh, led by Yeh Ek Soch Foundation and ComMutiny supported by UNFPA, REC Foundation.
For tackling a systemic challenge of this nature, Anjali is now taking up a more comprehensive approach in her '3-S Mantra'
Silence, No More – The first and foremost need was to open conversations on menstruation within family spaces. She felt media plays an important role in enabling these ice-breakers, thanks to mainstream movies on the subject as well as Oscar-winning short documentaries which brings menstrual hygiene into public conversations. She used them!
Spread Awareness across genders – Anjali realised that the absence of awareness on menstruation amongst men it remains a subject of either mystery or mockery. For establishing it as a matter of respect, care and dignity, it is critical for spreading awareness irrespective of gender.
Safe disposal of sanitary pads: To ensure ecological sustainability, it is important that soiled sanitary pads are disposed in an environmentally responsible manner. Anjali now aims to catalyse the efforts of governmental departments like Samagra Shiksh Abhiyan (SSA) in ensuring installation of sanitary pad incinerators across all schools of the state of Uttar Pradesh.
For all those who are seeking a simple way to challenge the status quo, Anjali suggests –
"To break silence on menstruation within your family space, initiate a simple conversation on this subject following a TV commercial on sanitary pads!
And in spaces outside your home, at a pharmacy store, say no to an opaque wrapping of the pad. It will be of greater impact when your brother or father accompanying you to the store asks the pharmacist to put the sanitary pad in the same shopping bag along with all other stuff shopped; making a strong statement that a sanitary pad is of equal utility and deserves an equal treatment.
On matters of menstruation, speak-up and change will follow. Period!"
Also Read: 15-Yr-Old Anand Chooses Education Over Circumstances, Inspires Community To Send 20 Peers Back To School