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By Raza Naqvi
THANE, India – It all started with a routine departmental medical camp. Without the camp, the issue of vaginal fungal infections would never have come to the attention of Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Dr Priyanka Narnaware, who immediately committed to act on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).
Concerned about the health of her colleagues and subordinates, Dr Narnaware raised the issue with her seniors, including the Commissioner of Police and ultimately contacted WSSCC to arrange an awareness-raising training workshop for female police officials.
A total of 63 female police officials from different police stations, headquarters and the Crime Branch participated in the training programme. Following the training, participants were tasked with raising awareness on the importance of menstrual health and hygiene, by disseminating information among 2500 female employees of the police force.
Busting taboos and myths around menstruation
During the three-day training programme, participants shared their experiences of getting their first period and also revealed a few myths and taboos associated with menstruation.
“When I had my first period, my mother taught me to wash the pad just like cloth and then dry it. Mother told me that if I don’t wash and just throw it then I will never become pregnant,” said Poonam, who works in the Ulhas Nager police station.
“I was 13 years old when I got my first period. My school uniform was white and got stained. After reaching home, I informed my mother and she gave me a cloth and a thread to tie it along my waist. Then she told everyone that I have become big and I have got menstruation. However, separate food was prepared for me, I was only allowed to sleep separately and everything was separate for me,” said Aarti who faced discrimination after she got her first period.
Sadly, in many states in India menstruating women suffer serious stigma and discrimination. For example, they may not be allowed to sleep in their homes and are therefore forced to sleep in cattle sheds.
The participants revealed other myths, such as: “Menstruation is very impure. It is not impure only for religion but for everything.”
Another was, “Menstrual cycles sync, that is if one woman is having periods, the other woman will get her periods too.”
The trainers worked to bust these myths associated with periods, informing the participants that menstruation is a biological process and has nothing to do with religion or society.
In order to build participants’ awareness of MHM, WSSCC introduced tools such as Flipbook, the Menstrual Wheel and Apron to teach them about physical and emotional changes in boys and girls during adolescence, for girls at the time of getting their first period and during menstruation.
The trainers also ensured that the participants practiced using these tools and worked in groups to do role plays. At the end of each role play, feedback was also given to the performing group by the rest of the participants.
MHM lab for awareness
The concept of the MHM lab was also introduced to the participants, as a powerful platform that they could use to meaningfully engage large numbers of participants within a short time frame across different geographies and contexts.
A lab session was carried out, combining both male and female participants, displaying several absorbents and giving detailed information about their advantages, disadvantages and safe disposal practices.
Participants were also motivated to create their own tools for better and easy communication in the field. They were shown how different attractive charts, aprons and wheels could be made by using simple materials, with some participants going on to make their own apron and cloth pads after the session.
‘Now we’ll talk openly about menstruation’
The training programme has catalyzed positive change among the participants, who reported feeling more confident after the three-day workshop.
“I am going to talk about menstruation in family, to my young boys and also share these learning at family gatherings,” said Kaushar who works at the Crime Branch.
Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Padmaja also said, “After the session, we know the correct usage of different absorbents. It is very bad to not talk about menstruation.”
‘Breaking the silence is important for both men and women’
The aim of the training was to break the silence around menstruation and inspire participants to talk about menstruation in their homes and communities, so that adolescent girls and women can observe safe menstrual practices.
Dr Narnaware says, “Breaking the silence is important. Not only for women, but men also have to be aware of it. It is our responsibility towards our sisters in the department to make them aware of MHM.”
The Deputy Commissioner of Police goes on to highlight that long working hours without proper hygiene management was a common problem for female colleagues, which could lead to various other vaginal infections and in the long run even cancer.
“Love your body, like your body, respect your body and respect your mind,” she said.