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Menstruation is a topic often shrouded in myths and taboos across India. Girls and women are considered to be “unclean” and “impure” when they are menstruating and are forbidden to enter the kitchen or places of worship or to touch certain food items such as pickles and vegetables.
A 2014 joint report by USAID, Dasra and Kiawah Trust reveals that 70 percent of the mothers of menstruating daughters consider menstruation to be “dirty” and nearly three-quarters of adolescent girls remain unaware of menstruation until menarche, the first occurrence of their menstruation.
However, the massive mass movement led by the Indian government to create a clean India has been reshaping people’s behaviour. Under the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission Grameen (SBM-G), menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has become a key focus area.
“SBM-G envisages creating a clean and healthy environment for all. The proper management of menstruation is one of the key components. For things to improve, the initial step is behavioral change,” said Mr Abu Imran, Director of SBM-G for the State of Jharkhand.
In addition, various training programmes around MHM have been conducted. Since 2017, WSSCC has been working directly with the Drinking Water and Sanitation Department of Jharkhand and providing in-person and online training sessions on menstrual health and hygiene.
“I have learned about menstruation and how to bust myths associated with it. I touched things like pickles, entered the kitchen and even planted a tree while on my period and nothing bad happened. I shared this with other women in the group, and they also stopped believing in these myths,” said Ms Sitara Yadav, one of the participants.
Mr Krishna Ramavat, who works with one of WSSCC’s partner organizations, served as one of the trainers for the programme. “We conducted training session in several districts of Jharkhand – the state known for Adiwasi (tribal) culture, including Latehar, Ranchi, West Singhbhum and Jamtara,” he said.
“When we started the training and saw the initial response, we thought it wouldn’t work, because for them menstruation was a very sensitive topic. But when they started talking about it, things changed for good. Acceptance of change is a great asset for the people there. All you need is to engage with them and start a dialogue,” said Mr Ramavat.
“Recently, I met those people again during an online training…Women have started adopting hygienic practices and are training young girls in their respective districts. As a result of WSSCC training programmes, one of our trainers, named Mr Manoj Prasad, was honoured with a state MHM award for his work in Latehar district,” added Mr Ramavat.
Supporting sustainable sanitation
In addition to providing basic knowledge about menstruation to adolescent girls and women in the State of Jharkhand, these training programmes have also introduced eco-friendly alternatives to the more expensive option of menstrual pads.
“I would like to thank WSSCC because it was during one of their training sessions when I came to know about the menstrual cup and how unclean clothes can cause infections among women,” said Ms Kumari Roma, a social mobilizer in Ranchi district.
“Before I used to have a lot of trouble during menstruation because I don’t get clean toilets in the block office. When I came to know about a menstrual cup in training, I ordered it and felt very comfortable using it. I shared my experience and learning with women from my community, and they also started using a menstrual cup. I am happy that at least 50 women switched to a sustainable alternative.”
Training is ongoing
WSSCC has also provided training opportunities to frontline workers associated with SBM-G, health department personnel and schoolteachers from 12 different districts in Jharkhand. As a result of these training sessions, WSSCC has created a pool of master trainers, who work to further spread knowledge to both men and women in their communities.
As a result of COVID-19, the MHM training programmes continue online. To date, at least 250 additional people have participated across five districts. The training now also includes information about the importance of handwashing and proper sanitation in the context of the pandemic.