New Delhi: “Periods – Sharm Nahi, Shamta Hai” (Periods are not a matter of shame but is about potential). This is the motto of Humjoli Foundation started by Dr Sania Siddiqui, Menstrual Health Activist, Health & Wellness Coach in 2018. The main aim of the organization is to spread precise information and education, help eradicate ‘period poverty’ and break taboos and myths associated with menstruation across the country.
As we mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 with the theme ‘Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030’, team Banega Swasth India speaks with Dr. Sania Siddiqui about her foundation – Humjoli, the idea behind why she founded this organization, its initiatives and the need for busting all kinds of myths and taboos associated with menstruation in our country.
The foundation has been helping young girls, women, men and other learn the importance of menstruation and menstrual hygiene management, Dr. Sania Siddiqui said,
The meaning of Humjoli is someone who is like a friend – with this as the motto, we decided to talk to young girls, women and other people in the society about menstruation or periods – something which our society feels ashamed of. We wanted to make everyone aware about menstruation in the right manner, make them understand what it is and why they should know the importance of managing it well.
Talking about the key initiatives, Dr. Sania Siddiqui said that the organization is known for conducting awareness sessions regarding menstruation and menstrual hygiene. What’s interesting is the fact that the sessions are not only for young girls and women but also for boys and men – basically each and every member of the society. Dr Siddiqui said,
We conduct these sessions in schools, colleges, offices, labour camps, jhuggis and all other community set ups – wherever we can get some people. The sessions, in a comprehensive manner, educate the masses on the basics of periods – what it is, in general, why it happens, how to use a sanitary napkin, how to dispose the same, the diet one should focus on during their monthly cycle and more.
Further highlighting the motto of the foundation – “Periods – Sharm Nahi, Shamta Hai”, Dr Siddiqui said,
We want to make people understand that periods are not something they should be ashamed of. It is a natural process. We should not be afraid of it, rather it should be treated as a superpower as because of the monthly cycle, women in later stages will be able to conceive the baby.
Humjoli foundation started educating the society in 2018 and till now the organization has conducted over 350 awareness sessions in 10 cities of India. The reach of the organization has been more than 50,000 women in the country.
Moving further, Dr Siddiqui also explained the other two ways in which the organisation is trying to help sensitise people on the topic of menstruation and menstrual hygiene. She said,
Talking about periods is little tricky, our parents don’t want to be indulge in such a discussion, in schools, the teachers try and avoid having such a communication. Keeping all this in mind, Humjoli foundation started a certification course on Menstrual Hygiene Management.
Dr Siddiqui said that the other reason to start this course was because many people around the country now want to work as a menstrual hygiene educator. She said,
We used to get many queries on the portal on this, they wanted to learn about the basics of menstruation and how they should communicate with other people of the society. I don’t say only a doctor or a medical student can talk about menstruation, the subject is such that anyone and everyone can talk about it. So, we thought of converting our set manual, which we use to train our volunteers and teachers into a certification course. The course is just not all theoretical, it also has other elements like a person taking the course needs to take a set number of menstruation and menstrual hygiene sessions in his/her community, once he undertakes the same and submit their project report, only then the certification is given.
Talking about another key initiative of Humjoli foundation – Period Party, which the organisation kick-started as an interactive platform, where open discussions can happen on the topic, Dr Siddiqui said,
We wanted to also introduce a fun element in Humjoli and make people aware and educate on menstruation. That’s when we decided to organise period parties. It is basically like a get together where we call anyone and everyone who is interested to join. We start the party by having round table discussions on menstruation, menstrual hygiene. The agenda being to break the myths and taboos associated with it and make people comfortable about the process. We also have theme-based games and activities. All this acts like an interactive platform.
Apart from talking about Humjoli foundation and the work it is doing, we also asked Dr Siddiqui about India’s status when it comes to menstrual hygiene and access to menstrual hygiene products. Dr Siddiqui explained,
Though India has a lot of government schemes and young girls are being provided sanitary napkins in their schools, yet the access to the menstrual hygiene products is not reaching the masses.
Dr Siddiqui said that ‘Period Poverty’ is still very much prevalent in the country and added,
Period poverty is basically a phenomenon when people in the country are unable to afford or have an access to basic hygiene products to manage their monthly cycle.
She said that in India there are around 40 crore menstruating women in the age of 18 to 50 years and out of them only a few have the access to the hygiene products. She further said,
So, the rest of the population is bound to use things like dried leaves, sand, mud, ash to manage their monthly cycle. And it is a very sad state.
Moving to the awareness bit, Dr Siddiqui spoke about the importance of having menstrual hygiene and menstruation as a chapter in school books and curriculum, she said,
Whatever information currently we have in school books about the topic is very very limited. The language of the same is also very technical and often it is a miss and therefore the knowledge that should be provided in schools to girls and boys about menstruation is total amiss.
Dr Siddiqui urged the policy makers to have at least a chapter regarding menstruation and menstrual hygiene so that knowledge can be imparted then and there and young girls and boys are made aware about something as natural as menstruation.
Highlighting the bit on inclusivity, Dr Siddiqui said,
Menstruation is not a woman’s issue it is a human’s issue. It is time we bring inclusivity on this topic as well. Many of us don’t know this fact but even trans-men and non-binary people menstruate. So, it is time we become more aware about the topic and don’t treat menstruation or menstrual hygiene products as just feminine hygiene products.
Dr Siddiqui signed off the discussion with a message and said,
Get up and raise your voice against the taboos and myths associated with menstruation. Take forward the concept of switching to sustainable alternatives of sanitary napkins and help reduce the waste load from the planet. And lastly, take responsibility of people, whoever you can and support them with this basic – menstrual hygiene product. Menstruation and Menstrual Hygiene management shouldn’t not be the responsibility of just one section or government – it should be a collective responsibility.
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.