This topic always makes many girls shy away and the taboo still remains like a stain in our society’s fabric. Utnoor is a tribal pocket in Adilabad District of Telangana State. As part of Menstrual Hygiene Day we (my host organization I Do where I work as a fellow) had organised an event welcoming many ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers and ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) to give them awareness on the importance of knowing and also spreading information about the same to women in their villages so that they follow the right practice during periods.
During the month of June interns from Tata Institute of Social Sciences had joined our team for the program on menstrual hygiene. The team went on a baseline survey to many villages on understanding the present status of perceptions and practices on this. The survey included questions like what do they know about menstrual hygiene, what do they do when they get periods to manage sanitation, whom do they talk about this, do they go to hospital etc. Many shocking things came to our notice when we conducted this survey in the villages.
- The women in these villages were using the cloth for more than 2-3 years and washing the cloths in plain water without detergent or soap.
- Women during her periods were asked to stay out of the house in a shabby hut or in many cases the corner part of the house on the floor.
- They were restricted from touching anyone or anything in the house.
- They will have to cook their own food and wash their own cloths even during this time.
- The people in the villages including many of the women themselves believe that it is bad for the villagers and themselves to touch or do anything during periods.
- They believe that they produce bad blood and are untouchable as they spread illness or are a bad omen to the people living with them.
- The women would live about a mile away from their houses where they live during periods and take care of themselves in such unhygienic and bad conditions.
- There were women who would live with their family members for hardly 5 days every month as they undergo menstrual cycle for more than 25 days in a month.
- Many women during their pregnancy will also die due to complications because of improper diet and medication and lack of proper transportation.
- The women don’t go for any anti-natal checkups which in actuality, they should at least complete 4 check-ups which they don’t and they go to the hospital for delivery when they feel the labour pain. The roads towards the villages are very bad and during rainy season the condition is terrible.
With all these detailed data collected through the survey we had everything set to start the awareness program along with distribution of sanitary napkins to the participating women. The district collector of Adilabad was very keen on initiating the program and to help many girls and young women understand its necessity and the ill effects that can cause big damage to their health if not properly checked. The tribal people in the villages around Utnoor were cooperative and were ready to listen. The number of women per village was less in comparison to the villages in other places of Telangana, but that also helped in some way to be frank.
The session was interactive and the participants were also taught various exercises and yoga asanas to help women undergoing menopause get some relief in pain and cramps. Our target was to reach at least 10,000 women within 30 days and we worked towards that. We prepared our list of villages that come under the Dhantanpally PHC and Hasnapur PHC villages as we have specified plans and the ASHA workers and ANMs from these villages were invited for the program on menstrual hygiene. The interns trained the participants thoroughly. The occasion was also the venue for the Mahua (a flower) plant product launch. The list of villages was made with the help of the District Medical Health Officer (DMHO), Adilabad and Primary Health Centre (PHC) doctors. Prior to our visit to the respective villages we would contact the ASHA workers and Sarpanchs of these villages and inform them about our plan to visit their village for giving awareness session. This way the village ASHA workers would get a buffer time to gather the women folk to a suitable place. ‘I Do’ partnering with Pragathi Welfare Society (PWS) distributed free sanitary napkins along with the awareness program.
The women were given all the required information regarding menstrual hygiene and the benefits of following hygienic procedure that they are supposed to consider. Our day started with a discussion on what are we going to do today, which village are we going to and what is the number of women we planning to impact in these respective villages. Each team (about 3 teams) would go to their allotted villages. The team would start by interacting with few of the responsive and relatively enthusiastic participants among the gathering and then start with the awareness session. This would also help overcome awkwardness.
The Sneha Program, as we call the awareness session inspired many women to understand the importance of menstrual hygiene and management. All the women were also given two packets each containing 8 sanitary napkins as part of the awareness program which helps the women drop the practice of using cloth or in some cases not even using any of them at all. We reached out to more than 7000 women in the villages around Utnoor and successfully distributed 14,000 plus pads in these villages.