Breaking the silence around menstrual hygiene

Date: 25th February 2020

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By Trupti Ashtankar and Charlotte Jenner

Mumbai, India – In many communities across India, menstruation and related hygiene practices are socially and culturally sensitive issues, shrouded in silence and perpetuated by myths or social taboos. As a result, women (and men) often lack essential information about the cause of menstruation, as well as safe menstrual hygiene practices.

Silence around menstruation and menstrual hygiene not only limits women’s knowledge regarding sexual and reproductive health and safe behaviours, but can lead to misinformation that fuels stigma and discrimination against women, threatens bodily integrity, health and privacy and contributes to trauma, pain and indignity. Lack of information and understanding of menstrual hygiene also negatively impacts safe and effective waste management of hygiene products.

With the aim of breaking the silence and creating positive behaviour change regarding menstruation and menstrual hygiene, WSSCC, organized a five-day Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) workshop – called the MHM Lab or Makawari ki Pathshala – in partnership with the Centre for the Study of Social Change (CSSC) and the Centre for Urban Innovation (CUI), in Mumbai.

From 7-11 January 2020, a total of thirty-one community health workers took part in the MHM Lab, which provided participants with training on the science of menstruation, the different products available for managing menstruation, safe disposal methods and breaking the social taboos that impact women’s lives.

Community health workers participating in the MHM Lab using interactive visual aids as a part of their training.

Participants were trained in safe and sustainable practices for managing menstruation, with special attention given to raising awareness on menstrual hygiene among marginalized groups, using WSSCC tools. For example, the Mahawari Chakra or ‘Menstruation Wheel’ was used to help health workers to visualize the monthly cycle, as well as answer questions on pain, blood and tissue/uterine wall discharge. The use of this tool also provided the opportunity to talk about conception.

The workshop participants were given the chance to demonstrate what they had learned in their training during a field visit to a community centre, where they carried out activities on menstruation and menstrual hygiene with local women and girls.

Community health workers participating in the MHM Lab use the Menstruation Wheel to explain menstruation to a group of women and girls during a field visit to a local community centre

The workshop culminated in certification of the community health workers as ‘Master Trainers’, who will go on to empower women and girls in their communities to regain control of a basic but fundamental part of their well-being – through safe and hygienic menstrual management, as well as safe reuse and/or disposal of menstrual hygiene products. As well as receiving their certification, the community health workers took the following pledge, committing to spread awareness amongst their communities:

We will break the silence on menstruation.

We will not feel shy, but be proud of it.

We will talk about it with our families and the society at large

MHM Lab participant receives her certification as a Master Trainer

As an outcome of the MHM Lab, each community health worker also created a detailed three-month Action Plan for Menstrual Hygiene Management, tailored to a specific target group and location. These Action Plans will help to guide their work, to increase knowledge on MHM and catalyse behaviour change.

The MHM Lab provides an important example of WSSCC’s work with partners, to bring menstrual hygiene out of the shadows –through simple yet effective approaches to awareness raising and behaviour change at the community level –impacting women across diverse geographies and a wide range of cultural contexts.

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