In India, menstrual hygiene is one of the most critical health threats for women, and they have to undergo several struggles during their monthly period cycle. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2015-16 pointed out that only 121 million out of the total 336 menstruating population in India use sanitary napkins. Unhygienic practices during menstruation can increase a woman's chances of contracting cervical cancer, reproductive tract infections, various types of yeast infections, and Urinary Tract infections.
Misinformation And Prejudice Clouds The Minds
About 23 million girls drop out of school every year in India due to menstruation. At times, due to family pressure, lack of basic sanitation facilities in schools, and even misinformation and prejudice. Addressing schools' lack of basic WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) facilities is now a critical component of the country's menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Since 2018, Srinidhi S. U. has devoted himself to the health needs of women and girls in his community.
Srinidhi served as the Project Chair for The Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) session project in 2018 and founded Project Sthree in 2019 as the President of Rotary Club in Bangalore's Seshadipuram, a program based around women's health, including hygiene, thyroid, and breast cancer, and HPV, as well as focusing on providing leadership and safety skills for women.
Srinidhi has spoken at the Red Dot Talks to break taboos, which encourages men to discuss menstruation. The project has provided leadership and safety training for women and girls and has been running online and offline since the pandemic. This initiative also focuses on popularizing sustainable menstruation products like menstrual cups and reusable pads that are economical and eco-friendly.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Srinidhi said he has been teaching for more than five years. He said, "I had seen several difficulties that my classmates faced when they got their monthly period, and they were scared to talk about it. When I was studying, menstruation was considered a taboo topic to speak about. Later on, when I started teaching, I saw how my students were affected by not talking about such a natural phenomenon. My students felt weak and demotivated whenever they had their periods, and they were not able to express their discomfort, sometimes even to the female faculty."
He spoke to The Logical Indian about his journey into improving awareness about menstrual hygiene, "In 2018, when I joined the club, the President back then was my junior in college, and she gave me the chairperson's responsibility. Since 2018, I have been working on the Menstrual Health and Hygiene project, and since then, I have been involved in it. I wanted to ensure that the message spreads across the board. We started by going to schools and taking menstrual health and hygiene sessions. We interacted with students and encouraged them to talk freely about menstruation and the myths associated with the phenomenon. We encouraged young girls to not sit at home for three to five days and carry on with their lives as usual."
Going All Out for Women Development
In 2019, Srinidhi decided not just to limit the campaign to menstruation but also the overall development of women and girls. The entire team then launched Project Sthree to empower women and girls. Under the project, we undertook several sessions on health aspects related to women like thyroid, breast cancer, cervical cancer, etc. They also focused on cyber-safety for women, their overall safety, and leadership development. While speaking about his experience, Srinidhi told The Logical Indian, "As a man, it is challenging to talk about menstruation as a topic, because people are not as receptive, at least not initially. When it comes to schools, teachers often would not allow us to address their students and called in for female members of the club."
When we asked about the challenges faced during COVID, Srinidhi said, "We shifted to online sessions during that period, and surprisingly, we could reach a lot more people. For instance, once we did a virtual awareness session, in which we have over 250 participants". Owing to the ease of online medium, Srinidhi, and his team could reach out to hundreds of college-going students and had instances when they took inter-city virtual sessions.
While talking about several cost-effective methods that can be preferred during menstruation, Srinidhi said, "To an extent, we do not encourage people to shift to sanitary napkins because of the recurring cost and several environmental concerns. Several times, we learned that rural women still resort to using cloth pads during their monthly cycles as they did in olden times. Therefore, we pushed in for the idea of reusable and eco-friendly sanitary napkins and menstrual cups. Using the latter is environment-friendly, but it is also a cost-effective method for them. A menstrual cup, if taken care of, could be used for years without any hassle/"
He also shared with The Logical Indian some of the emotional moments that he along with other volunteers under him encountered. While talking about some of the personal instances, he said, "When any of our female volunteers visit schools or any other sites for an awareness drive, we ask youngsters to address them as 'Akka', instead of 'Mam'. In Kannada, Akka is the elder sister; therefore, it creates a safe space between the two and lets the people open up about the problems that they would not have. I have seen some of the volunteers get surrounded by other girls who talk about their problems or crack some jokes because they feel we are their friends."
In the 21st century, it is surprising to see the myths and beliefs that prevail in society regarding menstruation, even though it is such a common phenomenon. The vision is to allow freedom to all women and girls in literal terms and not bind them to any of the past beliefs. Srinidhi sums up saying, "We want a time when no girl should skip her school for five days in a week, just because she got her periods".