Women from Indian Grassroots Strive for Menstrual Health Awareness

SOCIETY / The taboos centered on women’s menstruation in traditional Indian homes ranged from being denied entry into temples, dietary and mobility restrictions to being considered impure.

SOCIETY

The taboos centered on women’s menstruation in traditional Indian homes ranged from being denied entry into temples, dietary and mobility restrictions to being considered impure.

Bharat Dogra is a senior journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.


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We were sitting at the community meeting place of Karamdi Chingaryia village (located in Mangrol block of Junagadh district (Gujarat) and an adolescent girl Bhavna was narrating the various superstitions and myths associated with menstruation. 

“Well some of the restrictions appear entirely without any rationale, but perhaps the one on not entering the kitchen was meant to provide rest to women who cook on all other days”  a man suggested during our conversation on the taboos around menstruation.

Hearing this all the women including the elder ones in the group started laughing. Then Hansa said, “Who told you that while being kept out of the kitchen we were asked to rest. This only meant that we had to do the more tiring work in farms and cattle sheds. This restriction regarding kitchen did not mean a chance to rest but more hard work.”

 It was at this juncture that a social worker named Sudha pointed out “At the time of menstruation, the woman’s body requires more nutrition and therefore if she had access to kitchen, she could have cooked a nutritious meal for herself.”

Another woman said that a menstruating woman could milk the cows, but she could not touch the milk after this!

All this adds up to a lot of needless restrictions which were creating a lot of unnecessary problems without helping women in any way. The task of dismantling these myths has been taken up with a lot of enthusiasm by Manjula and Sudha, two social activists with the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AGRSP).

Manjula has held regular meetings with women and even more particularly with adolescent girls in this village. “Earlier girls were full of confusion and entirely unnecessary fears regarding menstruation. But after having detailed inter-action on this issue when all their doubts were cleared, now they have confidence and clarity”,Manjula says.

To help her work, Manjula has several visual aids to explain the scientific aspects with clarity. She even has interesting games which help to disseminate messages of hygiene, nutrition or other aspects of menstrual health management (mhm). What is very welcoming is that not just the young but even middle-aged and elder women are now appreciative towards the work Manjula is doing.

“There may have been some doubts earlier, but now all of us understand the usefulness of this work”, says Remila, a woman of this village.

Another village where this MHM programme has progressed well is Jariyavada village (also located in Mangrol block). Aafreen, a girl of this village explains that earlier adolescent girls were discussing this issue with their mothers but their doubts were not always cleared and what is more they were told about several superstitions and myths. But in recent times these myths have been shattered due to the educational work on this issue.

Rehana; a socially alert and educated woman helps the several self-help groups that have been working well in this village. She says that this educational work was really needed in her village and has been very well accepted by girls as well as their mothers who themselves also feel the need for this information.

Sudha Rathore has played an important role on  behalf of the AKRSP to strengthen the self-help groups and the mhm programme. She feels that when a trust  exists in the community because of the good work that has already been done in other areas like savings and livelihoods, then it became easier for communities to respond to and accept somewhat more sensitive issues like mhm.

Deepika Yadav, also from AKRSP feels that there may have been some rationale for some beliefs in old times, but in the new times with new technology being available several old benefits are not only not needed but have also became harmful. Sudha adds that women listened very carefully to doctors who came to group meetings to talk about health risks associated with neglect of mhm, and this contributed to the success of the campaign.

Adolescent girls are also being contacted at school under this educational program and they as well as their teachers appreciate the importance of this program

The overall experience of these as well as other villages like Kotda is that the program is not only useful but has also been well accepted by the village community. Kamla appears to be a traditional elderly woman of Kotda village, but she says loud and clear that such an effort is needed.

Neemu Behan is active in the block-level federation of self-help groups. As an experienced and well-informed woman she also supports the program. “It is badly needed in villages”, she says.

Along with education, this program which has reached about 60 villages here, is also telling girls and women about choices they in menstruation-ranging from ordinary sanitary pads to just clean cloth to specially designed, longer-lasting and eco-friendly pads. Once village women know about the plus and minus of what is available, they can make a well-informed choice keeping in view their situation.