It is sad that a natural process like menstruation is considered felonious in societies across the world where women are deplored and discriminated against and forced to abide by many restrictions and prohibitions. They are disallowed entry in the kitchen, they are barred from visiting places of worship and in some cultures they are even asked to live separately during their periods. Along with this comes the stigma of being impure, sick and dirty. In short, a large number of taboos veil menstruation. Women face abuse at a time when they need the maximum medical and psychological attention
Goonj and Youth Alliance recently joined hands to bust taboos revolving around menstruation and started with the initiative – 5 days of dignity in two colleges of the University of Delhi namely Hindu and Jesus & Mary beginning from 3rd November, 2014. This initiative, which is a part of Goonj’s ‘NOT JUST A PIECE OF CLOTH (NJPC)’ campaign, aims to generate awareness among the college going youth through the means of street plays, talks, simulation drive et cetera.
Powerful slogans and posters were put up all over the campus of Hindu College. The bark of the famed Virgin tree was wrapped in a red cloth. The whole atmosphere radiated a sense of audaciousness as if asking you to break the shackles of stereotypes. The volunteers were distributing handouts and survey questions (which, quite impressively, were printed on reused paper) to students. Male students were also asked to share their view point/message on the sheet provided.
The initiative kick started with a thought provoking street play by the prolific Asmita Theatre Group under the direction of Mr. Arvind Gaur, an eminent theatre personality. The play succinctly portrayed the various problems menstruating women face in different walks of life, be it their own house, school, or workplace. The lack of awareness among people, insensitivity of the opposite sex and the role of parents was also addressed. The performers were brilliant and the script was well enunciated; the audience was glued to the performance.
A placard activity followed the street play.
Rachit Sharma, a member of the organizing team, says – “Association with the NJPC campaign brought me face to face with many disturbing facts, taboos and stories related to menstruation. 88% of the Indian women lack access to sanitary pads! A large number of women die every year due to cervical cancer and other complications from the lack of reproductive hygiene. Overcoming these taboos is therefore a point of contention.”
The second day of the event saw students, both boys and girls, turning up in large numbers to be a part of the awareness program where they were taught how to make sanitary pads from cotton cloth for supply to rural areas where women do not even have access to the most basic facilities during their periods. The cloth is washed, ironed, checked with magnet and then later converted into pads, with utmost safety.
Talking to UE, Rona Jha who has been making cotton pads for several years now said, “There has indeed been a change. People back in my village want to learn more about menstrual hygiene now. However, all this is still not openly discussed, and women continue to hide the fact that they are on their period due to shame.”
We cannot even imagine the lack of awareness and facilities in rural india. Women use anything that they can get their hands on, leaves, gunny bag pieces or maybe just go sit in wastelands till the blood flow stops. In a shocking incident was revealed to us by Gayatri, a member of team Goonj, a village woman used her blouse during her period. The blouse had hooks which caused tetanus and later the woman died.” Women need to be made aware about menstrual hygiene but before that happens, people need to get rid of their feelings of awkwardness while discussing such issues.
The ‘Chuppi Todo Baithak’ was an attempt to get young boys and girls comfortable with the idea of discussing menstruation at ease. While boys raised questions about the dos and donts of menstrual hygiene, girls shared their experiences and said that were open to discussion on this topic but felt awkward because of the kind of response from the opposite sex and society at large. Each student suggested a plan of action that they would adopt to tackle the issue, where some would write about it on their blogs, others would discuss it freely with friends and family and do what little they can to help the rural women.
“The problem needs to be tackled at the very base. We need to educate children about the physiological changes that happen at puberty well in advance to help bombard myths related to menstruation,” said Swasti Pandla, a student who attended the program.
On 7th November 2014, there was talk with Mrs. Meenakshi Gupta (Co-Founder: Goonj) at Hindu College. Mrs. Meenakshi Gupta enlightened the students about lack of awareness about female hygiene in rural areas and further talked about Goonj’s NJPC initiative.
The candid discussion took place in an open area in the college grounds. The event was promoted extensively through various posters which invited students to be part of the dialog. The ambience for the talk was set through a video compiled by the student organizers, which gauged the reaction of the youth to the word “Period”- it was an endeavor to show that menstruation is still a tabooed topic. The gathered students talked about the need to discuss the issue more openly. They exchanged stories about their encounters with the myths associated with menstruation-and how these myths are actually being given the status of reality in the society. The audience was able to talk with ease as Mrs. Meenakshi Gupta encouraged them and clarified their doubts about various myths associated with menstruation. She also shared various instances about her interactions with women in rural areas who are not given an opportunity to talk about the topic of menstruation-as a result of which they lack awareness about health and hygiene issues associated with it. The NJPC campaign (Not Just a Piece of Cloth) is a campaign by Goonj which aspires and works towards eliminating the taboo around the issue of menstruation. The talk came to an end with an activity in which the students explored ways through which menstruation could overcome the obstacle of being a subject pushed into the arena of forced obscurity.
Armaan Mehra, Ruba Fatima, Titiksha Devrani