The Optimist Citizen

How 2 young professionals are breaking the silence around menstruation for 600,000 people in rural Jharkhand

According to a 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled Spot On!, it was found that nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include the availability of sanitary napkins and logical awareness of menstruation. Concurrently, the report also states that 70 percent of mothers with menstruating daughters considered menstruation as dirty and 71 percent of adolescent girls remained unaware of menstruation till menarche (the first occurrence of menstruation). 

Satwik Mishra and Komal Ramdey came from different backgrounds. They grew up in different cities of India and worked their way up in different segments of the development sector. But the heartening state of menstrual hygiene in Simdega district of Jharkhand brought their work together.  “Post my work with the SBI Foundation and the Supporting Parliamentarians on Analysis and Research in the Constituency Fellowship, I joined the Aspirational District Fellowship. While placed in the Simdega district, Jharkhand, I saw women and girls facing their precarious fate; a fate where society neglected the irregularity and rampant ignorance in case of menstrual hygiene”, says Satwik.  

“As part of my SBI Youth for India fellowship in 2014, I was placed in the Gundiya village in the Baruch district of Gujarat. What started with a small survey about the state of things in the village expanded into awareness drives around neonatal care and menstrual hygiene. I remember an air of rigidity, surprise, and mockery splashing around amongst the villagers, especially men, on the topic of menstruation. With the help of some members of the local governing body, I started teaching English to girls in the local school. At the end of school hour, I would talk about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. This led my foray into Menstrual Hygiene management and into starting a relevant conversation around the largely underserved issue.”, recalls Komal. 

Both Satwik and Komal had been running awareness programs in their specific regions, but the need for a larger program that focussed on providing end to end services, and involved men in the conversation, was strongly felt. Realizing the importance of issue, Satwik as an Aspirational District Fellow, ideated and proposed the idea of running a district-wide campaign i.e. ‘Garima Abhiyan’ over MHM, to overcome the societal stigma attached with the issue. The then Deputy Commissioner of Simdega Dr. Jatashankar Choudhary, not only readily accepted the proposal but also participated actively throughout the campaign. Next hurdle in the line was to find ‘Subject Matter Expert’ for technical support. The district administration then collaborated with WSSCC and Komal took lead from WSSCC in this campaign. 

 “ Satwik approached me and we decided to implement a larger scope of work in menstrual hygiene management in Simdega district and its 450 villages. I was part of the training of the first 75 master trainers,  but Satwik was the one who implemented the whole idea, on a larger scale. Later I also participated to contribute in 3rd phase of the campaign’, says Komal.

“The primary plan was to provided end to end services when it comes to menstrual hygiene management in Simdega district. Three aspects that are covered in the project scope are -breaking the silence, menstrual hygiene management (practices and access to absorbents) and safe disposal of menstrual waste. The local government body of Simdega was very open to the idea. And we wanted to set up a pilot in an area that becomes an example for others. When others see a successful example, then it is easier to replicate”. says Satwik. 

Under the name of Garima Abhiyan, a first of its kind district level Menstrual Hygiene Management program was implemented over a period of 6 months in 3 phases. In the first phase, Komal, as a representative of WSSCC and Satwik, through district administration trained 75 master trainers in MHM, who eventually trained 3000 people in the district. These 3000 people did awareness programs for 600,000 people. In the second phase, they conducted workshops in all the schools, Anganwadi centers, healthcare centers, and all government offices in the district. 

As the program envisioned a holistic solution to strengthen Menstrual Hygiene Management in the district, 100 women from a local SHG were trained by Jatan Sansthan – an NGO in Udaipur to produce bio-degradable sanitary napkins using cotton clothes. Along with providing prompt access of sanitary napkins to lakhs of women in the district, it also created a source of livelihood for the 100 women and their families. In the third phase of the campaign, all the villages were covered with sensitization. ‘My colleague Biswambharnath Naik (Aspirational District Fellow) and the then Deputy Development Commissioner Mr. Ananya Mittal played pivotal in extending this campaign to ground level, by making villagers sit all together and watch the movie ‘Padman’, Says Satwik.

“The effect of the program on the district has been monumental. It broke conventions, spread word, and most importantly, opened up new sieves for conversation. I felt delighted on seeing that men took part in the campaign in equal proportions. They talked about the issue with their families, and many spread awareness as master trainers.”, says an enthusiastic Satwik. 

Overall, the program reached out to 964 Anganwadi centers, 784 schools, 600 SHGs, 8 Community healthcare centers, 8 primary Healthcare center and a total population of 600,000. The success of the program amicably coaxed the state government to take notice. The program is now being implemented in 8 more districts, with plans of initiating it in other states in partnership the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) coming up. More than 3000 frontline workers from health, education, social welfare, and livelihood promotion departments played an instrumental role in covering the entire district with the campaign. Together they were given the name of ‘Garima Fauj’. The work of Satwik and Komal was felicitated with the 3M – CII Young Innovators Challenge Award in 2019 in the Rural Innovation category. 

Komal and Satwik receiving the 3M – CII Young Innovators Challenge Award 2019

The official tagline of the program is Jabtak Chuppi Todenge nhi, tab tak abhiyan  Choddenge nhi (We won’t stay put until the silence is broken). And indeed, the terse rope of silence around the topic of menstrual hygiene and has now been broken like a thin thread, at least in the district of Simdega. Satwik’s and Komal’s efforts have borne fruit in not only spreading awareness on the issue but also bringing men into the fold of the conversation. 

For their work in the Simdega district of Jharkhand, Komal Ramdey and Satwik Mishra were awarded the 3M – CII Young Innovator Challenge Award 2019 in the Rural Innovation Category.

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