Usuallly, we hesitate to speak the words “menstrual cycle” in public or to talk openly about menstruation and reproduction in general. Women discuss it in coded language among themselves, using euphemisms such as “the problem” or even “the curse”. Traditional Indian society has kept menstruation shrouded in customs that require seclusion of menstruating women. They are barred from attending religious ceremonies during “that time”, suggesting some kind of impurity that may cause harm to others.
For the well-being of society, it is essential to have open discussion on menstruation and related topics. Realising this need, MSCERT organised a state-level workshop, ‘Safe and Healthy Management of Menstrual Cycle’, on 16 November, 2016 in Pune.Around 30 gender coordinators from districts across Maharashtra attended the workshop, which was conducted by Bharati Tahiliyani, founder of ’Kshamata’, an organisation that works to end human trafficking of women, and Sandip Tendolkar of UNICEF.
The workshop started with an interesting game in which participants were given balloons, which were not inflated, and were asked to write the first word/s that came to mind when someone said, “menstrual cycle” on a piece of paper. They were then asked to insert the paper in the balloon and to inflate it. The balloons were then placed in the centre, and participants were asked to select any one they liked. Each participant had to burst the balloon that she had got and read out the words on the paper inside. Through these phrases, the participants were provided glimpses of a range of attitudes regarding menstruation. The resource persons grouped the written responses as being either positive or negative. Though there were some positive sounding words like “natural incident”, “a boon to womankind”, “necessary for continued lineage”, the majority of the words, like “impure”, “irritant”, “dirty”, “anger” and so on, reflected the negative feelings associated with menstruation among the group.
This game revealed the extent of negative feelings and contempt regarding a perfectly natural occurrence like menstruation. This led to a discussion amongst the participants. At the end they agreed that if we continued to look at menstruation through the prism of tradition, treating menstruating woman with fear and contempt, then as a society we would not be able to change our response to women. The discussion also sought to address issues like, “What is menstruation, as a bodily function?”, and “The need to question traditional dos and don’ts related to menstruation”.
The participants also discussed the importance of personal hygiene, cleanliness and wholesome diet during menstruation. They advocated various provisions that ought to be available to women during menstruation. They recommended access to either clean cotton cloth or sanitary napkins for menstruating women, along with facilities for disposing of used sanitary napkins within the school premises. Everyone agreed that it had to be said that menstruation was not a contagious disease or a punishment for a sin and that menstruating women should not be made to sit apart from others. They asserted that a girl may play and exercise during menstruation, just like at any other time, and that it is important that she gets a wholesome diet during these days. They also felt it essential that girls and women receive education on human reproduction so that they may better understand the relationship between the menstrual cycle and reproduction.
A documentary called ‘Safe Management of Menstrual Cycles’ was shown during the workshop. The findings of a survey conducted by Kshamata were also shared by Bharati Tahiliyani. According to this survey, 84% of girls did not like going to school during menstruation. This was because the schools were not equipped with facilities that allowed girls to change their pads, nor did they have separate toilets for girls. Around 60-70% girls missed school either voluntarily or due to parental pressure during menstruation. Given the taboo regarding discussion on menstruation, it was found that barely 13 out of 100 girls knew about menstruation before they started menstruating. It may be concluded that one of the reasons for the falling percentage of girls in schools after the age of puberty is the onset of menstruation, and the lack of facilities in schools for menstruating girls.
The participants concluded that in order to maintain the attendance of girls in school, the menstrual cycle was an important issue that could no longer be ignored. Hence it was necessary to make arrangements in schools and provide scientific knowledge about the topic to all students. The participants were divided into three groups to discuss and suggest how best to achieve these goals. The groups proposed that separate toilets for girls with adequate water supply and electricity, changing rooms, provision of sanitary pads and pain killer medication be provided within the school premises, and regular guidance by experts and trained teachers were required to tackle the issue.
At the end of the workshop, the Commissioner of Education, Dheeraj Kumar addressed the participants. He said, “First, teachers need to get over the misunderstandings they may themselves have about menstruation. Every girl child in the state has a right to education as well as a good health-care system. The government plans to build a model school in each district that will ensure safe management of the menstruation cycle. Teachers from the entire state will be trained for this purpose. Unless girls in Maharashtra become physically as well as mentally competent and equal to boys, Maharashtra cannot dream of making progress. Hence we should all be alert to providing proper guidance to all boys and girls during puberty.”
Asha Ubale and Nutan Maghade of MSCERT and Rajashree Tikhe and Sandip Tendolkarof UNICEF also contributed their expertise to the workshop.
Blog: Snehal Bansode Sheludkar
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team