Wednesday, 17 August 2016

“Why do girls bleed?”

“Have you ever seen this in your home, advertisements or anywhere else?” asked Mona holding sanitary pad in her hand to the participants sitting in the circle.

After a brief pause a 12 year old boy replied, “Yes, I remember seeing this. I don’t know what it is called. Umm! This is something that is given to girls and boys are made to run away from there.” That’s how the session on ‘Menstruation’ began with the 20 adolescents. 

After him, other boys shared the brand names of sanitary pads that they have seen in TV commercials; however girls were hesitant in sharing about sanitary pads which seemed obvious to me as this is something that is always kept under covers and talking about menstruation that too to openly is a taboo itself. The participants were then asked to answer three questions in form of yes/no and how they felt about seeing or using sanitary pads? Interestingly girls also came forward and answered the questions. The energy with which both boys and girls were participating and sharing on menstruation was infectious, this is something that I have never seen happening in any space associated with adolescents be it school, family or peer group. 

Participants watching "Hello periods"
Through ‘Hello periods’ video by Menstrupedia, we explained various aspects of Menstruation- as to what is periods? When does it happen? Why does it happen to girls? , usage of sanitary pads, importance of cleanliness during periods? The adolescents who were giggling, talking to each other now had all their attention on the video. As soon as I finished explaining, I was bombarded with questions like ‘Women who don’t get menstruation can’t get pregnant?’ ‘During periods, is there lack of blood in a female’s body?’ Then we mapped feelings, thoughts, do’s and don’ts around menstruation, the result was evident as participants shared that ‘girls are forbidden to touch pickle’, ‘they are not allowed to wash their hairs or to enter temple and kitchen’ ‘they should remain inside home and should stop playing games’. One of the participants shared, “My mother told me that in our village while a daughter in law is having periods she is made to live in a tabela, a place where domestic animals are kept, and also she is made to eat plain food without spices as she is not pavitra (impure)” 

'Do's and Dont's of Menstruation'
From the discussion and examples shared, we explained how all these notions are not true. Menstruation is simply a biological process which happens to all girls and is indicative that they are healthy – others like not allowed to touch pickle etc are simply myths and there is nothing like being pure or impure. Since Menstruation is not talked about openly, even girls are not properly educated around it; the whole concept of periods has become a taboo! It is not something that we need to hide or be ashamed of. On asking boys, how they can support girls like their sisters or friends while they are having periods, a 12 year old replied instantly, “Usually I don’t have money but I will collect money anyhow and bring sanitary pad for her. Also now I will not tease her and if she has pain in her stomach I will help her in household work.” 

The whole idea of making boys and girls sit together and talk about one of the most tabooed topic seemed successful after hearing this. Going back to my school days, as I remember girls being taught about menstruation via workshops and boys were shooed away which only resulted in boys making fun of girls and unanswered queries. However with these 20 adolescents I am sure this won’t happen. I am curious to know how they would employ this information in real life, but at this present moment I am happy and content as I could see our vision translating into reality slowly and steadily. Yes now it is ‘happy periods’ for me :-)

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