One thing that Kiran Lashkari, a menstrual hygiene management sakhi or community resource person, was sure of is that her daughter will not undergo the pain of stigma and social ostracisation that she herself underwent during menstruation as a young girl. Her emphatic statement, “Whatever happened with me was my mother’s choice but now what will happen with my daughter is my choice! I won’t let her feel disgusted about herself as I used to feel,” was an indication of that.
There was a wistful look on Kiran’s face as she recollected the trauma of discrimination by family and community during the five days of her menstruation. She was not allowed to touch anyone. She was not able to cook or serve food for herself. She had to sleep outside the house. All this when suffering menstrual pain that is the bane of many women’s lives.
However, this scenario is set to change for women with the Tata Water Mission’s Menstrual Hygiene Management Programme (MHM). The mission, a Tata Trusts’ initiative, aims to promote safe and effective menstrual hygiene management in around 900 villages in three years. It plans to cover a stakeholder base of over 200,000 women and 45,000 men. The programme seeks to build a socio-cultural environment for girls and women to manage menstruation with dignity and without fear.
Kiran, who is one of the MHM sakhis, works in Baru, Jutpani and Toli villages in Amravati district in Maharashtra. She used to hide the tools and games of the MHM programme from her young son and daughter. One day, her pre-menarche daughter somehow managed to find it and pestered her with questions. Kiran explained ‘What is menstruation?’ to her daughter, using her first period as an example for added impact. She shared how shattered she was when she found a blood spot on her undergarments. Her daughter laughed out aloud, saying, “What’s in it Ma, it’s just periods!!”. And Kiran grew a few inches taller with pride, knowing that she did a good job of explaining it to her, and to others as well.
The MHM programme has trained over 300 sakhis who are women from local communities, and is working on behaviour change through local implementation partners and self-help group networks in schools and communities. The outreach has touched over one lakh women and adolescent girls, and 10,000 males thus far.
During the interaction with the women, it has been observed that they are curious to know the science behind menstruation and intrigued to learn the facts behind it. It’s like a huge barrier that is overcome once they gain the knowledge. “We need to create an emotional bond with them to make them feel safe and open up to discuss menstruation. And you know, when we leave after the session, women ask us when will we come back again,” says Kiran.
Kiran signifies the change that the programme is seeking in villages. Kiran’s empowerment, and that of other women like her, will lead to a gender-equitable society where open discussion about menstruation is welcomed and young girls and women are encouraged to respect and love their bodies. It will also be a step up to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of ‘good health and well-being’, ‘quality education’, ‘gender equality’ and ‘clean water and sanitation’ in India’s villages.