Menstruation is not a problem, poor menstrual hygiene is.
Anurag Chauhan is an Indian social worker and founder of Humans For Humanity, a non-governmental organization headquartered in Dehradun, India. He is widely known for social work, particularly with regards to menstrual hygiene. Wikipedia
In many parts of the world, menstruation is a topic that cannot be talked about publicly, a subject matter left in the dark. In absence of proper knowledge, girls spend their early teens scared and not knowing what if they have periods. In Nepal, menstruation is considered an unclean, unhygienic, and impure affair and has set rules that are to be followed by the women and girls during the menstruation period. Generally, girls are prohibited from touching male family members, entering the kitchen, or sharing food with the family and are forced to sleep in a corner on the floor, or in a cowshed.
In far western Nepal, menstruating women and girls had to face extreme conditions under their tradition of Chaupadi Pratha. Girls and women are banished from home to live in a mud hut separate from home during their menstruation period. This system had been declared illegal in 2004, yet it is still prevalent. Living in isolation without proper hygiene, many girls and women face serious infections, even sexual assaults and death.
Poor hygiene due lack of knowledge during menstruation is a real problem in all parts of the world where such traditions like chaupadi exists. Thus, raising awareness about women’s hygiene, health and well-being is one of the must to tackle issues in the society.
Menstrual Hygiene Awareness Day is celebrated around the world on May 28 every year. To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Awareness day, Rukmini Foundation organized a program at Shikrapur Community School for all girls of grade 7, 8, and 9, late last month. There were 63 participants and 2 resource persons -Bimala Poudel and Sharmila Malla from local Shesh Narayan Health Post.
The program started with the topics that are very important to every girl, that girls are not comfortable talking about. Resource persons explained that girls should not be ashamed about menstruation, because it is a natural biological process of a female body. They used charts and pictures to describe “Menstruation” and at what age it normally starts, what happens, and what to do when it happens. They also explained how to maintain proper hygiene, what products to use and how to stay clean. They talked about the symptoms before and during the period, the effects of climate and food on menstruation, and the importance of cleanliness during periods. As the menstrual period (cycle) normally lasts for five days, and the normal menstruation cycle happens every 28 days, it is also called “Mahinawari” in Nepali, meaning that menstruation or period is a monthly routine.
The girls were very keen on learning about every detail of Menstruation. The program was very interactive as the girl’s raised questions during the presentation. They asked about hormonal change, period pain, menstrual supplies, cultural taboos, and reproductive organs as well. Girls were learning to understand all about their body and how it functions which will help them prepare better during their period. It was evident that many of the girls did not have a basic understanding of menstrual health. One of the girls was curious to know why menstruation stops during pregnancy. Sharmila Didi gently explained a woman’s body stops releasing eggs during pregnancy and results in menstruation pausing during that period and how it starts again a few months after giving birth.
One of the young girls said, “ I am 12 years old and I have not started menstruation. I did not know anything about menstruation, what is this and why and how it happens. From this program, I learned about periods, what happens during a period, and how to stay clean”.
At the end of the program, they discussed cultural customs like girl/women who are having a period are not allowed into the kitchen, cannot go to the temple or place of worship, and so on. When asked how many of them are told that they follow such rules, more than 50% raised their hands. Clearly, there is more work to be done to raise awareness to eliminate period taboo and help them manage safe hygiene practices in the community.
This program will certainly help young girls understand menstruation hygiene, where and how to get sanitary products, and how to ask for help from their family or friends without shame. We believe, girls learned that using proper hygiene and cleanliness will definitely save them from sickness and diseases. We must continue to work together to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our girls, raising awareness in schools and communities by organizing programs like these. We have to talk about menstrual health because silence can actually kill.
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