Rinky,15, is a beautiful young girl from Totapara, Pakela. She has gorgeous eyes and a sparkling smile but feels insecure. As she grew up, she always wanted to achieve something in her life; she wanted to create a unique identity. She is a dreamer, an admirer of women who are accomplished. She is very close to her father, who always protected her. She felt blessed and satisfied with what she had.
One day, she felt unwell. She spent a day in school without understanding and noticing her first menstrual cycle. Her classmate, a boy, told her that “there is something behind your skirt”. She thought the skirt got dirty because of the seal on the public transport. She walked home alone, spent the evening with her friends, and slept. Morning, she saw that her bed sheet and skirt were stained with blood. She thought she was suffering from a disease. When she expressed her concern to her mother, she said, “You are a grown-up now. You cannot go to school anymore. You will have to stay at home.” She was kept in a jungle for about four days and had to face menstrual exile. She was in fear and a confused state. She did not end with an eviction and dropping out of school. There was also a lack of emotional support and a clean and safe place to practice hygiene during her periods.
After menarche, she could not work/ find a job; she could not travel and learn new things curtailing her adventurous spirit. All she wanted was an opportunity to build her skills and be an independent woman. During one of the team visits to the community, we met her sister, just 18 years old, who had a baby who was six months old. She was married at the tender age of 17. Rinky was scared that the same fate would befall her. During the community interaction, she expressed her willingness to work with us on the program. She asked us to speak to her mother, so she could be allowed to work with us. She felt triumphant after she was allowed to do so by her parents.
She started by attending the TOT training for three days. In the beginning, she was timid and unable to express her views. After a few hours of interaction, she felt comfortable speaking up and actively participated in every task. On the 3rd day of the session, she voiced all her doubts and sought clarification. Her questions were poignant and warranted discussions, one of them being, “Why can’t we give birth to children before marriage if our body is preparing itself for reproduction from the age of 11?”. She wanted to discuss myths passed down generations and practiced by people she knew. During periods, don’t touch a newborn baby because one is impure, don’t water the plants, they will die, and one should not let men see a woman and many more. She felt that having a period is terrible as it takes away all the things that made her happy. She also confessed that the sanitary napkins are washed after use and then disposed of because no one can see the blood or find she is menstruating. Participating in the MHM training helped her overcome her fears about menstruation and helped her gain knowledge about her own body. She shared, “I feel relieved and courageous as I can handle mensuration on my own.”
She also took sessions in the community on topics related to menstrual health and hygiene and did an assignment on “stories from the grassroots”. Interacting with many girls her age, she realized that every woman experiences the same, and it’s a natural process. She also did help her friends in managing PMSing and methods to dispose of menstrual products. Shiksharth has assisted MHM
and provided a safe space for them to discuss and express their concerns. It may be a small step towards making her life better, but it helps her build skills like community mobilization, conducting workshops and sessions, and gaining knowledge. This will help her educate and support her community on MHM and its related issues. She will need a good mentor to help her when she needs materials to implement the programs. But for now, in the community, basic infrastructure and disposal systems are essential to maintain health and hygiene during periods.
Community members of all age groups, irrespective of gender, should be sensitized about menstruation, not have to drop out of school after menarche, or be restricted from doing specific work at home. As menstruation is a sensitive topic and related to taboos, it will take more effort than just spreading awareness and providing amenities.