When I was in Chattishgarh last year, I conducted a session with 40 young women, mostly married and asked them why we get periods. After a few minutes of silence and blank stares, one of them raised her hand and said “Well, that’s how it is, ma’am. This is something that happens every month to us. It’s natural”. Another young girl raised her hand and said “I started getting my periods few years back and when I got them I was asked not to enter the household and not to touch the food because I was unhygienic and impure. I had seen my mother and my aunts follow this tradition, but when I was asked, I felt terrible. So for me, periods are the worst three days of a month”. Everyone nodded in agreement, and looked around awkwardly expecting me to end the discussion.
While it should have been astonishing to know that none of the married women or girls knew exactly why we get periods, honestly, I wasn’t surprised. The advent of menstruation still brings shame, discrimination and seclusion for women - both physical and psychological. Women and girls are often forbidden from cooking meals, entering the household, temples. They are considered untouchable, impure and even cursed. Menstruation in India is clouded by taboos making it very difficult for women and girls to see menstruation as a positive, healthy and natural phenomenon that can be discussed openly. It is sad that even mothers don’t find it comfortable to speak to their daughters about period which is shown through a research that 61% of women were not aware about periods until they got there first periods. This means 216 million menstruating women did not know anything about periods until they got there first periods and that’s a huge number!!
Obviously, the large number of women and girls has been coping with menstruation for long, without complete knowledge about why period occurs and what products should and shouldn’t be used. This leads to dangerous health risks, cultural discrimination and a consequent loss of educational and economic opportunities. There is a dire need to spread awareness about menstruation and open channels of communication. There still exists a huge information gap that can only be bridged through accessible information and a systematic pedagogy aimed to change mindsets.
PASAND’s vision of a safe, gender-equal world, where all adolescents have the tools, the confidence and a supportive environment to navigate their way into a happy and healthy adulthood, is the first step towards filling this information-void. PASAND’s comprehensive teaching material and fun-filled pedagogy is a solution to promote open communication and instill confidence in adolescents about themselves. We have begun our journey of change and we hope to support and inspire adolescents to grow with confidence. Like this young student from Chattisgarh who confided in me after the session got over, “I know so much about my body now. I will tell my mother and aunts about it too. I FEEL HAPPY TO BE A GIRL”.
Deepali Bharadwaj discovered her yearning to work in the development sector during her travels, and uncovered her love for traveling across rural India, during her work. A hotelier by education, when Deepali isn’t traveling or working on women’s rights, she is found feeding animals, playing with babies and chronicling her journey on Instagram.