When Puja had her first period, she was terrified. Naturally, the sight of blood triggered fear in her, for blood was associated with pain and danger. Had she contracted some dreadful disease, she wondered, as anxiety and thoughts of death crowded her mind. Not having a clue about menstruation, she suffered in private, not knowing whom to approach.
Eventually, the 14 year old from Barjo Arya Girls School told her mother, hesitatingly. Her mother consoled her and told her not to worry. She was given some cotton cloth to use each time she had a period. However, she was banished from the kitchen and told to refrain from walking around in the garden, bathing, participating in worship and touching pickle.
Her life changed dramatically after that, her carefree existence a thing of the past. Not only was the occurrence a difficult time, she was also unable to share her feelings with anyone – at home or in school. It was hush hush topic.
It was on 2nd June, 2019 that a Swachhata Sabha was organized in her village. The focus of the meeting was on Chupi Todo Swasth Raho, a campaign recently launched by the state government of Jharkhand to break the silence on menstruation, while focusing on strengthening methods and ways of menstrual hygiene management (MHM), among adolescent girls and women.
During the meeting, Sumanti Devi, chairperson of Jalsahiyas, (Block Dhanwar), an active Water Sanitation and Hygiene front line worker in association with Public Health Engineering Department, Giridih talked vividly about menstruation. She explained that menstruation was a natural biological process that occurs among adolescent girls.
Ms. Sumanti also explained about the three major pillars of Menstrual Hygiene Management- awareness, accessibility, and safe disposal of used sanitary absorbents. Proper, accurate and significant information about menstruation is the key to avoid infectious diseases caused by poor sanitation and hygiene during periods, she added.
The speaker went on to say that accessibility of safe sanitary absorbents was important for MHM as also safe disposal of used pads to protect health and keep the environment clean. The importance of maintaining personal hygiene, bathing regularly and using clean pads and cotton cloth was emphasized. The informative talk was an eye-opener, providing fresh insights to all gathered there including Puja. She took the opportunity to converse with the speaker and clarify other doubts she had. The event banished all fear and from then onwards Puja accepted menstruation as a normal/common part of life.
Mrs. Sumanti keeps organizing such meetings at GP level with SHGs, adolescent girls, boys and with people in general to break the silence on menstruation.
“My task is to raise awareness about menstruation among all groups of people. I am determined to banish fear, shame and stigma attached to the phenomenon. I want to see girls approach the future taking bold steps, without fear,” Sumanti said.