A Journey To Create Awareness On Menstruation, Aarthava Yaanam: Blood Flows; Words Flow
Written By Meemansa Singh
“Change” it is popularly known as all that is constant in this world. And yet, the world seems to hate change even though it has brought progress to mankind time and again. Scholars, scientists, statesmen, have argued in favour of change and acclaimed its significance. For instance, Charles Darwin spoke about change in the context of his evolution theory, and declared, “it is not the strongest of species that survive, neither the most intelligent, but only the ones which are most responsive towards change.” Benjamin Franklin put it more tersely when he said “when you are finished changing, you are finished.” Albert Einstein when speaking about change said, “The world as we have created is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
To bring about a change that matters is the sole motto of The Red Cycle’s campaigns. Aarthava Yaanam was a journey, undertaken by a number of youngsters, with the purpose of bringing a valued change in the draconian way of things. When this journey started, we did not know if we were going to achieve the kind of success that we did. This campaign was on the to-do-list for a very long time and ultimately took a concrete shape under the leadership of Ms. Kavya Menon. The Aarthava Yaanam campaign was jointly organised by Sustainable Menstruation Kerala Collective (SMKC) and The Red Cycle (RC). This event was spread across 14 districts to be covered in two phases which was a total of 18 days. The host organizations for the campaign in different districts were M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, WISH Foundation, YANA IVF and Fertility Centre and a number of other NGOs, Hospitals, College Unions and so on and so forth.
The campaign chose a gender neutral audience, and a number of more than 20,000 people were covered under this first of a kind menstrual awareness movement in India. This incident was an eye opener for a number of people, and we just got to know how much work we actually will have to do in order to make a difference. Despite the standard education and literacy in Kerala, menstrual education and awareness remains an uncharted territory of some sorts, and the taboo regarding it still exists.
We have heard time and again that the government has been installing Vending Machines for Disposable Sanitary Napkins and Incinerators for disposing off the same, but very conveniently forget about its impact on ecology and environment. It has to be understood that vending machines and incinerators are not the only solution but education and awareness regarding menstruation is more important.
There have been particular instances which were like bucket of ice water for us, waking us up from the dream world we are living in and showing us actually how much more we have to work in order to achieve the end. One such instance shared by Arjun was where a lady even after her menopause did not know the meaning of menstruation. When it was explained to her, she was in denial, confusion and doubt. Another one shared by Ms. Kavya Menon was that during one of the sessions in a nursing college when asked about the process of menstruation, very few tried to answer and even who did, could not answer properly. Later, they shared that it was due to the culture shock and being conditioned by taboos at their homes.
Moreover, men too need to be educated on this topic however due to lack of proper dialogue and misinformation there does exist major awkwardness. One of such misinformation and misconception is the issue regarding educating children about menstruation. The misconception being that ‘menstruation’ is something ‘sexual’, and cannot be discussed among children of any age group; therefore, people prefer to keep it a secret, and this attitude gets propagated into adult life as well. Another issue is the lack of awareness among men about it, due to which they do not consider it as something unique in a woman. In one of the sessions, the boys rose queries saying that when we are talking about menstruation, we should talk about masturbation too, which are two completely diverse topics, yet significant.
There are issues and confusions around Hygiene related to the product, the societal issues related to it, environmental and ecological problems, etc. The spell is broken now and people have started speaking, which should be a good thing, in few instances, there were also few complaints about the same. Now as the initial awkwardness was addressed, few teachers wondered if they would suffer from more questions arising out of children’s curiosity. If menstruation was always regarded as a general topic and not shushed about all the time, such a situation would never have arisen.
There are a number of lessons that we have learnt from this campaign but the most important one being that we have to work a lot. Spreading the required awareness and education isn’t going to be an easy task, but once the initiative has been taken, it is going to go all the way. We focus on the target audience to be everyone; and that there shouldn’t be any kind of age or gender barriers.
Another comment was added by Dr. Abhirami Prakash who said that, “All the great changes in history took place by a small thought that sparked in a person’s mind… It took its course by repeated conversation over the topic… just like a ripple formed by a small stone…
Aarthava Yaanam, the initiative by Sustainable Menstruation, Kerala and Tamil Nadu has done that…making ripples, creating an agitation, makes people question their beliefs, empower them with knowledge irrespective of their caste, creed and gender. These conversations will help in changing the perspective in the society, though slowly but consistently… it is been such an honour to be a part o such a massive movement… hoping that the journey of life keeps reaching heights with each coming year.”
The issue we have come across while taking sessions in cities is people commenting that, there is no need of such education here as menstrual education is known to them, or so they think. People are unaware of the totality of the issue. If someone is aware of menstrual hygiene, he is unaware of the environmental aspects, if one is aware of environmental issues, they are unaware of the societal taboos, and the never ending loop continues.
The volunteers and people who made this event happen, when asked about shared the lessons they got from this campaign. Most of them shared that they were not actively aware of menstrual hygiene products and their diversity. There was a lack of education regarding sustainable menstruation and its importance too. Other than that, in order to improve things in the future, it is understood that there is a need of more human resources, more volunteers in order to have more successful events; we invite all interested people to write to us, and join this campaign in its next edition.
The participants who came forward enthusiastically signify the growth of a generation for whom red stains would never be a taboo. In the coming times, we aim at working with the same adrenaline and fervour towards the cause, which is now stirred up.
The differences are already witnessed on small scale where schools and other campuses have started organising awareness events. College magazines are dedicating space for menstrual awareness, this is a start.
In situations like these, when the target is the general public, the momentum, the revolution, the inquilab, will have to be generated from the midst of the general public and only then success can be achieved.