New Delhi: 18-year-old Anjali Vaishnav from Tonk district of Rajasthan was 13-year-old when she got her first period during a lunch break in school. Unknowingly, Anjali stained her skirt and was asked to go back home. Upon reaching home, Anjali’s mother educated her briefly about periods and provided her with a sanitary pad. But, neither in school nor at home Anjali was provided information about how and why menstruation occurs and how should one deal with the changes in one’s body.
Similarly, when 17-year-old Nisha Chaudhary, from Darda Hind village in Tonk district of Rajasthan, got her first period, she was told that every girl gets it and there is nothing to be scared about. Nisha’s mother handed her a cloth, not the most hygienic way of managing periods, and that was that.
Nisha, a student of class 12, lives with her parents and a younger brother. Talking about her experience of using a cloth, Nisha said,
My mother had always used a piece of cloth during her periods but I found the cloth to be very uncomfortable. And I realised it only after I started using a sanitary pad.
Even Anjali’s response to periods has changed. Now she knows why and how to maintain hygiene during periods and educates other girls of the village too. This transformation has been possible because of the Feminist Adolescent and Youth-Led Action (FAYA) Programme led by the Population Foundation of India with support from The Young People Foundation.
Since October 2018, the Population Foundation of India has been running the FAYA programme in four districts of Rajasthan – Bundi, Karauli, Dungarpur and Tonk – under which it conducts out-of-school sessions on Comprehensive Sexuality Education for adolescents. FAYA also trains young people to advocate for access to services and rights with peers and family members, communities and state and national level policymakers and implementers.
Under the FAYA Project, there are local counsellors who provide Comprehensive Sexuality Education to young people. 24-year-old Yamuna Sharma is one such facilitator working in the Tonk district. Yamuna has been associated with PFI since 2019. Narrating her work tales, Yamuna said,
Initially, girls would make excuses like, we have work or our parents don’t allow going out and refuse to talk to us. Nevertheless, we kept visiting them and there came a time when adolescents started inviting me to discuss some or the other topic. When working on the field, we make a group of 15-20 girls and talk about anything and everything they would shy away from – reproduction, internal organs, and sex, among others.
When asked what led to this behaviour change among young girls, Yamuna said it was the interest and curiosity to know about their bodies. However, the conversations around sex did not go down well with the villagers. Recalling an incident, Yamuna said,
Once I had gone to conduct a session on sex. A private school teacher from the village once overheard our discussion and said, ‘You can’t talk about these things openly as this will leave a bad impression on children’. It is then I told him that even school books have a chapter on reproduction but unfortunately, that is often skipped.
According to the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 84.1 per cent of women (15-24 years) in Rajasthan use hygienic methods of protection during menstruation. The state has witnessed a drastic uptick in the use of hygienic methods since 2015-16 (NFHS-4) when 55.2 per cent of women used hygienic menstrual protection. While the state has reported progress, stigma and taboos with regard to accessing information are still there.
Another issue that facilitators like Yamuna pick up are myths surrounding periods. This includes, not touching pickle while menstruating or not entering the temple. Yamuna said,
Even I used to believe in these things until I joined PFI and we did practicals like holding the jar of pickle or touching holy basil plant. We conduct practicals and use paintings and posters to educate the girls.
Nisha’s father has a medical store and even then, she was introduced to the cloth as the first menstrual product. However, things changed as her Yamuna didi (sister) talked to her about hygiene.
Talking about the need for such a project, Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, said,
Adolescence is a transitional period, during which young people experience changes in their bodies, mind and emotions. Questions that adolescents may have around menstruation, conception, contraception and other issues remain unanswered due to the stigma surrounding sexuality. The FAYA Programme aims to provide a safe space for the young to express themselves and ask questions without the fear of being judged.
The stories of Anjali and Nisha prove that targeted advocacy and education can change lives for the better and create future changemakers.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.