I am Vaibhav, a first year Law student in Lucknow. My earliest memory with an intervention in health rights goes back to my association with the Know Your Body, Know Your Rights campaign by YP Foundation. I worked as a fellow there until COVID happened. This followed my month-long internship with YES Foundation in 2019 where I discovered about the jagrik campaign. I had a prior experience of documenting their 3-day mega event. And hence was excited about the same. So when I got a call to become a jabardast jagrik, I decided to give it a shot. My experiences enabled me to develop an understanding of sexuality, sex education and the stigma associated with menstruation. The enhanced understanding of the subject coupled with my passion for sustainable menstrual hygiene practices led me to become a part of Jabardast Jagrik campaign. The campaign actually shaped my idea of building the Lal Dot campaign.
When I got in touch with Be A Jagrik phase 2, I got connected to my partner Aakriti through social media. In the conversations that followed, our goals for MHM aligned well with each other and we decided to work together. As much as women shy away from talking about menstruation, the men in society are kept more aloof from the mainstream conversation. I have believed that we do need to bring men in the discussion to devise better strategies to deal with menstrual hygiene mismanagement. We chose the Sugamau community in Indira Nagar (Lucknow) for our campaign. On the first day, we conducted a social audit of the community to gauge the existing understanding of menstruation. This was followed by an introductory session on the subject and a movie screening on the second day. The following days saw us conducting ice breaker sessions ‘free to express’ wherein we asked the participants to express themselves freely. They danced, sang, spoke, and we couldn’t stop smiling at their happiness. Seeing this approach, more people were encouraged to attend our sessions and the numbers rose gradually.
I was particularly interested in cloth pads while Aakriti was advocating menstrual cups. We were surprised to note that people didn’t even know about these options when we discussed them in the regular sessions. Seeing this, we conducted a cloth pad making session where participants learnt to stitch their pads. To my surprise, we had an attendance of 40 members that day who together stitched around 24 pads. We organized a session with Professor Alka Singh on myths around menstruation. This was followed by a few more sessions on menstrual cups and an informatory session by a gynaecologist from Chennai. She talked about how taking medicine for period cramps is not a healthy option. All the sessions were aimed at busting existing myths and educating girls on healthy menstrual hygiene practices. The highlight of our work turned out to be a session with men on menstruation wherein we talked about how everyone needs to be educated on the topic irrespective of gender. At the onset, we received heavy criticism and silence from community members. Our initial intervention appeared to attack the age old conventions of the community. It was alien to them about a woman-centric subject. In fact, it suprised the community members to see a boy talking about the women issues so fluently. They were apparently uncomfortable. However, I tried making them understand menstruation is a natural phenomenon and why it happens. It was only a matter of time before thoughts started to flow freely in our discussions.
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During our journey, we also included doing economic analysis of different options of menstrual hygiene. We did a comparative analysis of their costs and let the girls decide for themselves. We also conducted sessions with the stakeholders to build their capacities for contributing to sustainable menstrual hygiene practices. By the end of our journey, we were happy to receive extraordinary support from the adolescents and their parents alike. I still remember when we went back to the community in April, the participants were using cloth pads. They shared that this option turned out to be really helpful and cost-effective. I just smiled and felt content. We might have started with just 13-14 participants but our end event in April saw about 39 regular participants. All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the parents’ active support and that of participants who helped us in mobilising the community members. After months of hard work and persistent efforts, we convinced people to talk about menstruation freely and discuss its nitty-gritty without hesitation. Moving ahead, we look forward to registering our campaign ‘Lal Dot’ by July this year. We also plan to take this idea of sustainable practices to the urban audience and educate them.
Yeh Ek Soch Foundation
Participant, Be A Jagrik Phase 2