The topic of feminine hygiene, within that menstrual hygiene in particular has for long been seen as a taboo in India. The issue is so severe that approximately 60% of women in the country are annually diagnosed with vaginal and urinary tract diseases and infections all due to poor menstrual hygiene. Myths about menstruation that have been passed down through generations have ingrained themselves so deeply within the psyche of both men and women that breaking the bubble of these myths has been a challenging task. This difficulty quadruples when someone has to break the misbelief around feminine hygiene in rural mountainous regions. However, Ms. Deepa a RSP from Digoti Village in Dwarahat Block, Uttarakhand with the aid of her friend Ms. Anjali took upon themselves the responsibility of breaking the misconceptions around menstruation and feminine hygiene.
Though conversations around this issue are important as taboos around menstruation have greatly crippled women due to chronic reproductive infections; their initial attempts at getting the women from their village to talk about it wasn’t met with huge success. Where the subject of menstruation is seen as something very personal even in urban spaces getting women to speak about it in a small rural setting like that of Digoti was going to be really hard. But this is where the resilience of Ms. Deepa and her friend Ms. Anjali shine through the clouds of difficulties.
After an untiring effort of about 4 months during which Deepa and Anjali kept pursuing and persuading the girls and women of their village, the women from their village finally began taking interest in what they were trying to say. Slowly but steadily the number of women willing to listen to Deepa and Anjali grew. It was then when Deepa thought that now there were a healthy number of women who were willing to be a part of their drive on feminine hygiene and health that they organised a meeting at a local primary school.
Meeting being held at Primary School, Digoti
The meeting was a place of discussion where Deepa explained the girls and women of her village about the unsurmountable importance of feminine hygiene and how it corelates with health. During their conversations with the women they spoke of how approximately 82% of women in India are still unaware of sanitary napkins or what are they used for? Deepa and Anjali explained the consequences that women often have to face due to their negligence towards menstrual and genital hygiene and circulated leaflets which explained the same through pictures. They spoke of how ignoring the cleanliness of their genital regions along with using pieces of cloth instead of proper sanitary pads might lead to various bacterial and fungal infections in the urinary tract that could turn into something much larger and more serious, possibly even fatal.
The discussion however was not limited to just this. Deepa emphasized on the need of menstrual and genital hygiene pointing to the fact that the health and nutrition of women and girls in mountainous regions is pretty bad. As a consequence, they are more prone to diseases especially UTIs. She explained the importance of a healthy and nutrition rich diet which could be easily prepared at home through a combination of traditional grains and vegetables. Advising the women of her village to ensure a healthy diet along with taking care of their genital and menstrual hygiene Deepa and Anjali managed to change the outlook of their fellow village women.
Deepa addressing the participants on the issue of Menstrual Hygiene
During the discussion session Ms. Kiran a fellow female from Digoti spoke about the difficulties that women faced in terms of obtaining sanitary pads. As the village is at a significant distance from the market, timely availability of sanitary pads to women has always been a challenge. Ms. Kiran also spoke of the heavy costs that sanitary pads have which often become a barrier for a lot of women to avoid purchasing them in turn affecting their menstrual and genital hygiene.
Kiran raising the issues of affordability and accessibility of sanitary pads
Deepa and Anjali understood the gravity of these concerns and had already begun negotiations with different agencies through the help of Lok Chetna Manch. Two agencies, that is, Akshita Smith Foundation and Community Health Centre, Ranikhet were identified for arranging the supply of eco-friendly and affordable sanitary pads for their requirements. In order to keep a steady demand and supply the two young women asked the participants in the meeting to decide a centralised storage and distribution centre within the village along with seeking contributions for procuring the sanitary pads from both Akshita Smith Foundation and the Community Health Centre.
After a successful collective decision-making process and the assigning of roles for procuring and distribution of sanitary pads, the meeting was adjourned for the day. The participants met a week later where Deepa and Anjali along with the selected distributors distributed the first batch of a month’s supply of sanitary pads. This has now become a continuous cycle within the village and has been running smoothly. The females in the village have realised the effectiveness of the system and are now pooling money each month to procure the sanitary pads, in turn making it more reliable and sustainable.
Deepa distributing sanitary pads procured from Akshita Smith Foundation
This way the two women were able to generate awareness regarding the issue of menstruation and genital hygiene. But more than that they were able to help build a working, self-sustaining and centralised distribution and storage system for providing women of their village with sanitary pads. Deepa and Anjali have thus worked to transform a deeply personal issue like that of feminine hygiene to a community one.