Manoj Prasad from Dhangartoli village is considered the menstrual warrior of the Aspirational district of Latehar in Jharkhand because he is on a mission to create awareness on women health issues stemming from negligence and lack of hygiene.
He recalls that he was about 18 years old when he returned home from college and when he asked his mother for food, he was served by his sister-in-law. The sister-in-law explained that since his mother was on periods, she was not allowed to touch food, pickle, etc; while assuring him that it was a normal process and all women in the age group of 10-50+ experience the same.
Astounded, Manoj realized that menstruation was a word that spoke loudly around the silence – as people feared to express their feelings and doubts. Owing to this lack of awareness and knowledge, women in his village and the rest of the country failed to take proper care of their health, often having to bear negative consequences.
Having worked with the Swachh Bharat Mission Grameen for a few years when he created momentum and motivated people, thereby contributing to bringing about behavior change in his village, Manoj who was a swachhagrahis was keen to address this issue. He first equipped himself with sufficient knowledge from the awareness sessions on MHM carried out by the district administration.
In a district where health facilities are quite basic, he dedicated three and half months for the MHM mission to bring about behavioral change in menstruation among adolescent girls of his far flung village.
Previously, Manoj had facilitated a session on MHM at Utkarmit Higher Secondary school where all the girl students were incredibly shy about talking about menstruation. A class 11 student – (Anita Kumari) then asked him openly why he was taking about a topic that needed to be discussed by women alone.
“There are many misconceptions and taboos related to menstruation owing to which many young girls leave school. We need to eradicate such myths gradually,” Manoj responded.
From his experience, Manoj also realized that women working as a wage labourers in villages and cities often did not have access to toilets, let alone separate toilets. Despite this, they continued to work, risking their health to earn an income. This made him even more determined to speak about the issue and bring about some change in work places.
Thereafter, during a discussion on menstrual hygiene initiated by him in his village, women at first were very hesitant, but after providing them with the necessary information about the phenomenon being a natural biological process, the need to use clean sanitary pads, the need to dispose of them properly and how they could protect themselves from infections, they opened up, asking a lot of questions to clarify their doubts regarding menstruation. They were given detailed explanation about the same.
In addition, the various incidences and stories shared by students helped Manoj Prasad and his team to establish a larger vision for their MHM awareness campaign.
The State’s ongoing ‘Chuppi Todo- Swasth Raho’ statewide campaign gave him space to facilitate and reach larger sections of the society including schools where village leaders were equipped to disseminate the messages.
Also, with support from the Block Development Officer of Garu block, many sessions were held on the key issue, helping to dispel myths.
MHM is a social issue that needs to be addressed in schools and the wider society, including families and communities. Men should be able to support girls and women with the necessary facilities, and help break the silence around menstruation.
Further Manoj says that there is a need to change family and community norms and beliefs pertaining to menstruation. Being unable to talk about the combined with limited information, amounted to shame regarding menstruation. Menstruation is a symbol of good health. It should not be ignored in families, schools and communities. We need to support MHM, he added.
Here’s what a school-going girl from Garu said: I was interested in stitching clothes and handkerchiefs. But my mother who is an active member of a SHG taught me how to stitch cotton pads. Earlier I used cloth during menstruation. But the stitched cloth pads make me feel comfortable and dignified.
Inputs: Aspirational District fellows – Subhra Sen and Rahul Raman, Nutrition fellow – Juhi Pandey, and District IEC Coordinator Deepak Chaudhary