The year is 2018 and conversation on menstruation, and menstrual hygiene is on full swing, or so we tend to think! Thanks to different government programmes, NGOs, and even Bollywood movies like Padman, the topic of menstruation has at least started coming to the fore, but a large number of adolescent girls in rural hinterlands of India still shy away from even speaking about it, mostly because of lack of knowledge and awareness.
Srilekha’s fight for menstrual hygiene in rural India
However, a Jadavpur University PhD student, Srilekha Chakraborty has been making efforts over the last five years to render that much-needed knowledge about menstrual hygiene among young girls in some of the most remote communities of Jharkhand. Talking to The Logical Indian, Srilekha talks about her journey from being a Teach For India (TFI) fellow in 2011 to becoming an advocate of Sexual Reproductive Health Rights for young tribal and Dalit girls in Jharkhand.
Srilekha after finishing her fellowship in Pune started working with an NGO called NEEDS in Jharkhand. While working there, Srilekha realised that the girls and women she worked with knew very little about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. She said, “Although the central government scheme is in place, I was shocked to see that girls did not know a lot about menstruation, let alone talk about it.”
Guidelines on menstrual hygiene now followed
Not only that, but upon interacting with the Anganwadi workers in Pakur, Sahibganj and Chaibasa (West Singhbhum) of Jharkhand, Srilekha realised as to how little the penetration of information regarding menstrual hygiene is. She said, “The Anganwadi workers are not trained to talk about menstrual hygiene, because of which girls miss out on accurate information on periods.” Moreover, iron tablets, the deficiency of which leads to anaemia is also distributed inconsistently by the Anganwadi workers. Even when the National Rural Health Mission has clear guidelines on promoting menstrual hygiene in rural areas, Srilekha said that the pointers are hardly followed in reality.
While the Jharkhand government in the year 2015-16 had allocated Rs 25 crore for the distribution of quality sanitary napkins among girls in schools replacing the Union government’s Menstrual Hygiene Scheme (MHS) of 2011, Srilekha’s experience says that a negligible amount of that money has reached the girls of Pakur and Sahibganj.
She also puts out another pertinent point which many might miss out on. The active government programmes concerning menstrual hygiene in India target school going girls, where they are provided with free sanitary napkins. However, Srilekha after half a decade of hands-on work has come to understand that a large number of girls in rural India are either dropouts or married. These girls miss out on the opportunity that school-going girls are entitled to.
The burden of disposal
The process of disposal is also problematic for a lot of young girls. Upon interacting with some young girls in a high school in Pakur in July 2018, Srilekha realised the burden of disposal. In what was, probably, the first chance given to the teenagers to talk freely about their periods, the problem of disposing of the used napkins cropped up. She said, “The girls who are on their periods, either skip schools or can only change their napkins after returning to their houses post-school.”
When she questioned the authorities about napkin disposal, those sitting at the helm of affairs promptly replied stating as to who would dispose of the soiled napkins. Appalled by the answer, Srilekha understood that even though the government through its schemes and policies is trying to bring change, it is not trickling down to the grassroots level.
While both central and state government policies have been creating ripples in bigger cities and towns, the villages where Srilekha works still yearn for the most basic knowledge related to menstrual hygiene, something which is essential to remove social stigma, taboos and misconceptions surrounding the same.
Srilekha is keen on spreading awareness about menstrual hygiene and ensuring that the related services like iron tablet distribution, disposal process information etc. are readily available to the girls in the area. For that purpose, Srilekha has also started a petition on Change.org asking the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation of Jharkhand along with other nodal bodies including Maneka Gandhi to ensure that young girls in remote communities of Jharkhand are provided with necessary knowledge and services on menstrual hygiene in the Anganwadis. For the purpose, she has also listed a five-point demand list which includes issuing of brochures at Anganwadis on menstrual hygiene. She has over 32,000 signatures and is hoping to get many more to draw the attention of the authorities.
Srilekha, apart from talking about menstrual hygiene also works with adolescents in these parts of Jharkhand on a number of different issues as well. Spending most of her days in rural Jharkhand, understanding the problems of young girls and boys, she visits Kolkata, her hometown only sometimes.
The Logical Indian take
Menstrual hygiene is a less talked about issue in general, and a lack of information coupled with misinformation makes young girls in rural India susceptible to both physical and mental trauma. The Logical Indian applauds Srilekha’s efforts in bringing this much-needed change.
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