Aneesha Menon, an India Water Portal Fellow, travels with The Nirmal Bharat Yatra (Great WASH Yatra) to understand the mindset in rural India on health and sanitation issues and to educate young girls on the menstrual cycle and hygienic practices. While the lack of awareness is shocking, Aneesha finds an eagerness to learn and adapt which is encouraging. On visiting two schools to take a survey, she is happy to note that their visit seems to have left a positive impact on the young minds.
For over decades, there has been this taboo towards menstruation that it’s unclean, dirty or even treated as something that is embarrassing. Women in India are treated as untouchables or even worse during their menstrual cycle. Have we ever stopped to think why we let this happen? Why are we constantly victimizing women when this is a routine procedure that is part of their womanhood?
Stepping into their teens isn’t the happiest of memories for many, especially for girls from rural parts of India. For them talking about their first period openly to anyone is considered a shameful act to an extent that they are not allowed to continue with their routine life and are asked not to use the same facilities as the family uses.
Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) at The Great Wash Yatra conducted a survey based on Menstrual Hygiene Management which allowed us to go to schools and understand the problems faced by the girls. This helped in giving me a clear insight into menstrual management. We were divided into groups and sent to various schools in the district to take surveys regarding the menstrual hygiene management. As the menstrual cycle is considered a taboo, girls of that age end up knowing very little about the basic steps to be followed. Most of them use cloth instead of sanitary napkins, and many of them don’t understand it and wonder why it happens. Due to not taking proper care during the period, many of them end up having a lot of health related problems. Our aim was to understand their emotions, reactions and also create an awareness towards the topic. We were accompanied by volunteers from The Centre of Sciences for Villages. In our survey the girls belonged to class 7.
Our first stop was at a village called Surgana in Maharashtra. We were directed by the Principal to the allocated class .The boys and girls were eager to know the purpose of our visit. We started out by asking them to draw their dream school. All of them took a minute to think and then took out their pencils to starting drawing.
After they were done, the boys were taken out of the class so that we could talk to the girls about their menstrual hygiene. In a class of 20 girls, only 2 of them had started their cycle. Out of the two girls, one of them was very shy and embarrassed to talk about it but with the encouragement from her teachers, she answered our questions. The other girl was happier to share it with someone other than her friends and that she was allowed to talk about it openly. After we were done with our survey, we educated the other girls in the class about menstrual hygiene. Also we told them that it was completely normal to talk about it and there was nothing to be ashamed of as every girl gets it at a certain age, it is an integral part of her womanhood and they should feel proud about it. The teachers in the school were very helpful and also kept asking us questions. Seeing this, the girls felt a lot more confident about the topic in hand. After our session with the girls, the boys were called back in. From the various drawings we had collected from the children, we selected one which had all the facilities including washrooms, dustbins etc. They all looked enlightened and seemed happy with the knowledge that they had gained.
The second school we went to was in a slightly bigger village called Arvi. It was an all girl’s school with around 10 girls who had started their cycle. What was different here was that the most of them used sanitary napkins and were more aware. They were eager to know more and asked us many questions related to the topic. It seemed like they were happy that they didn’t have to be embarrassed talking about it. One of them kept asking us questions and didn’t give the others a chance. It was overwhelming to see their enthusiasm and willingness to acquire information.
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Overall it was an eye-opening experience for me which helped me getting a clear insight. Living in urban cities we don’t really know what’s happening in the rural areas. For us, it’s our monthly cycle which is treated very casually but in most of the villages, many girls are kept at home, in a separate room and are not allowed to talk about it. We complain about the pain we go through during our period but they are the actual victims. When they are asked about how they allow themselves to be treated like that, they reply with a smile saying they don’t have any complaints. But after our survey they seemed more aware, and also more confident that in the future they will have the courage to go up to a shop and buy a sanitary napkin.
The Nirmal Bharat Yatra, also called the The Great WASH Yatra is a multichannel, mega-campaign that harnesses the positive power of Cricket and Bollywood to promote awareness and enact behavioural change around sanitation and hygiene in India. The Nirmal Bharat Yatra has been developed by WASH United and Quicksand, in collaboration with the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan. It is a huge carnival travelling across North India, from Wardha in Maharashtra to Bettiah in Bihar. The Yatra has games designed around sanitation and hygiene, a Menstrual Hygiene Lab to advise women on safe menstrual hygiene, and many entertaining and innovative ways to engage with rural audiences on the importance of sanitation. It is a one-of-a-kind attempt to solve India’s sanitation crisis, and is supported by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.