New Delhi: Seher Mir was just 16-years-old when she witnessed a host of moral, religious, cultural beliefs, myths and misinformation around menstruation in the rural areas of the Pulawama district in Kashmir. She came to know about it while conducting a ground research for her project, Andleb-i-Firdous (Nightingale of paradise) , in October 2021, as part of the application process for top universities to pursue a Liberal Arts course. Under the project, Seher conducted surveys to find out the number of girls who were educated about menstrual health and hygiene and had access to the menstrual hygiene products.
Seher’s interactions with girls living in the far-flung remote regions of Kashmir, revealed a glaring lack of knowledge regarding menstrual hygiene.
One of the cases that shook her was that of Muskaan, a 15-year-old girl, from Chandhara, a small village in the Pampore region of the Pulwama district. Muskaan was menstruating for the past two months. The teen has been experiencing month-long period cycles for a long time and considered it to be absolutely normal. Talking about the case further, Seher said,
It was normal for her because she had no one in the family or in her friends’ circle who could educate her that menstruation lasted for six days on an average. I suggested her family to visit a doctor and it was later discovered she was suffering with PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease). Realising that a girl, who was almost the same age as mine, did not know much about menstruation, really hit me to the core.
What started as an activity to build a portfolio, soon turned into a passion project for Seher, after she gained a fair idea of the dire status of menstrual health and hygiene education in the rural parts of Kashmir.
With the help of her father, Muravat Mir, Seher set up Andleb-i-Firdous, now commonly known as ZOON, as a non-profit organisation in 2022. She embarked on a mission to raise awareness about menstrual health and hygiene, among the girls living in rural areas and studying in government schools as well.
To build up a team, Seher created a Google form document and distributed it across her institute, among her friends and family. Her passion had a domino effect and what started out as the brainchild of a single individual grew into a team of more than 100 volunteers along with a core team of three other like-minded teenagers, Nuha Malik, Content Head, Fayiez Rafiq, Digital Head and Ahmad Wani, Volunteer Head, at ZOON.
The team conducts menstrual health awareness sessions at villages and government schools, where they discuss the menstruation process, the causes behind having irregular periods or a delay in the monthly cycles, the menstrual products to be used, changes experienced by girls who menstruate for the first time, myths related to it and the medicines available to subside period pain or cramps, among others.
The team is accompanied by 1-2 health experts, with whom one-to-one sessions are organised, wherein students have the opportunity to clear the doubts they have regarding menstruation. They also connect the government schools with the health expert and healthcare facilities catering to menstrual health.
ZOON also buys pads on its own and also through crowdfunding, to purchase sanitary pads and distribute among the students and girls residing in the rural areas.
Talking about the plan of targeting government schools apart from villages, Nuha Malik, Content Head at ZOON, said,
It is a sad state of affairs that girls are not taught well enough about menstruation in schools. The teachers are not providing them with basic knowledge. But there are many schools that we visited, where the headmasters wanted us to not only teach girls about menstrual health and hygiene, but also educate boys and girls on sex education, but we haven’t touched the subject as of now.
The ZOON team has reached out to nearly six to seven government schools in four districts each, of the Kashmir region – Baramulla, Anantnag, Pulwama, and Srinagar. The volunteers have managed to conduct drives in remote areas and backward villages of Kashmir, to reach more than 1,000 students and distribute over 15,000-20,000 free sanitary napkins amongst them.
Their work has received appreciation and the presence on social media has helped gain more recognition and strengthe the network with. More and more individuals offering monetary help, donating sanitary pads.
Another impact of their cause is the sponsorship from a local pad brand in Kashmir, Suvidha Sarthi, that ZOON recently received. It is helping the team to provide free sanitary napkins to girls from underprivileged backgrounds.
Nuha Malik, Content Head at ZOON, said that she noticed an inspiring eagerness among girls to learn and improve their understanding about menstruation, after the team reached out to them.
Talking about the significance of organisations like ZOON, Ahmad Wani, Volunteer Head, said,
There are very few organisations in the region led by students, and ZOON is one of them. The best part about the work we do is the response we receive from the students, how their lives have changed after they gained more insights on menstruation. This gives us motivation to keep going and fighting for the cause of raising menstrual health awareness.
Talking about the future plans, Seher says that the team is planning to rope in male students and educate them about menstrual and health and hygiene and eradicate the stigma and a sense of shame associated with the issue. Besides, they also plan to reach out to government authorities to create a larger impact. ZOON stands as a testimony of the youngsters’ desire to make a difference in their community can have a positive impact and reach.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. 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 a world post 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 well-being, 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.