With Akshay Kumar’s recent film Padman bringing to the fore the issue of sanitation and hygiene for women’s health, the desert state of Rajasthan is trying to go the extra mile by creating awareness on the taboo subject of menstrual health with specially designed campaigns. Campaigns like Chuppi Todo-Sayani Bano (roughly translated as ‘break the silence and grow up’) in Alwar and Nagaur districts have begun to gain traction.
In a situation where secrecy is linked to menstruation, the campaign is seeking to create awareness and increase access to requisite sanitary infrastructure that was launched by a young IAS officer Rajan Vishal initially in Nagaur district in 2016 as a Collector there and now replicated it in Alwar, where he is the Collector at present. More than two lakh school girls in both the districts have been touched upon and motivated to break the eerie silence and taboos in the largely conservative society and have been tasked to propagate the idea among other girls and elder women in their contact.
“The campaign has been designed to address the needs of adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene and 1.06 lakh girls in 1977 government primary and secondary schools in the entire district were sensitised on the issue last week and kits and booklets containing practical tips for better menstrual health management are also being issued to girls,” Alwar Collector Rajan Vishal told PTI.
The kits contain a booklet and CDs with pre-recorded sessions on menstrual health, uses of sanitary napkins, safe disposal and other related aspects. Vishal said that in order to increase the involvement of community, local village level representatives (panch/sarpanch), village water and sanitation committee and members of women self-help group (SHG) have also been roped in the first phase and various organisations have been contacted for supporting the cause under corporate-social responsibility (CSR) activities under which napkin vending machines would be installed in schools in second phase.
To ensure the sustainability of the campaign, monthly orientation workshops will be organised on every third Tuesday in all the government schools. Girls who are active and well-oriented on this sensitive issue would be given the title of Swachta Doot (hygiene ambassadors), so that they continue to spread the message and do policy advocacy.
The girls who are with 100 per cent attendance will be given the title. “If the girl is not missing a single day in school, it means that her personal hygiene management is good she did not miss a single day because of the biological,” he said. He said the campaign is targeted at increasing demand for napkins while generating awareness among young girls.
“Demand creation and proper orientation among girls about the biological process happening every month is the main agenda for which mass mobilisation is being done under the campaign which is delivering encouraging results. With the menstrual health, a component of ensuring personal hygiene through proper hand washing has been included which focus on creating awareness regarding washing of hands before eating and after using toilet by applying steps of hand washing as prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The idea of promoting menstrual health management among school girls in a comprehensive and systematic manner was conceptualised in 2016 in Nagaur where a women SHG set up a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit which made available cheaper napkins to girls. “The response of the sanitary napkins tilted Sayaani manufactured by a women self help group in Riyabadi village panchayat received a good response when we launched it in October 2016 at the district level,” Anuradha Srivastava, Additional Director- women empowerment, department of women and child development- Nagaur district, said.
“The campaign was sustained and more than one lakh girls have been sensitised. We are providing aids and making girls Hygiene Ambassadors. The result of the campaign is delivering encouraging results as the stigma associated with talking about menstruation is appearing to diminish,” she said. A government school teacher Manju Kumari, posted in Umren-Alwar, said that the campaign has helped in busting myths about menstruation among adolescent girls who in this phase feel several physical and emotional changes occurring in the body and mind.
“Several of my students were really clueless or ignorant of such changes while some seemed to have understood it but this matter never got discussed like other subjects and topics. As a woman, I want my students to understand the issue well so that they get empowered and confront the taboo around it at home, family and society,” she said.