heroes of change
(Photo credits: WaterAid India)

When Revathi turned the tables on menstruation!

By N. Sudhakar/WAI

Even today, when a girl hits menarche she is neither informed about the biological phenomenon associated with it nor is she taught how to manage menstruation in a hygienic and healthy way. Mothers, often the only source of such information for their daughters tend to refrain from striking a conversation by hushing it up. However, the tables turned for 15-year-old Revathi from Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh when she challenged societal norms, dismissed myths and discussed the much tabooed topic of menstruation with her mother, to help her manage her periods better.

Here is Revathi’s journey of giving Menstrual Hygiene Management a voice, in her house and amongst her peers, in her own words.

Menstruation is not a word we usually speak out loud with family members and even with friends. I remember when I was in class 8, two years back, there were training sessions on menstruation held in my school by some experts from WaterAid and its partner organization. At first, I was extremely shy as no one had ever discussed menstruation, so I decided to skip it. But after repeated conversations with the visiting teams and my classmates, I decided to attend the training.

After a couple of interactions, I was convinced to participate in the training sessions conducted on Menstrual Hygiene Management. The discussions were something that I never imagined could be done so freely and without any inhibitions. It felt like a very normal thing to talk about.

Soon, I began to participate in every session based on Menstrual Hygiene Management that was conducted in my school. As I have always been an inquisitive girl, my interest and involvement in the issue led to my appointment as one of the Core Group girls in my school, within a year.

I was delighted to know that a Core Group girl is given the opportunity to develop her skills as an orator and a motivator. To create awareness amongst other girls of my age in not just my school, but even beyond, in other schools as well. As I jumped at the opportunity, I was able to reach out to over 500 girls from nearby schools and was instrumental in initiating behavioral changes in their understanding and management of menstrual hygiene.

It was an amazing learning for me when the ICDS department gave me the opportunity to conduct a similar session with the Anganwadi teachers. Soon, I enhanced my skills of conducting such training sessions and used various information, education and communication tools to make the discussions more interesting.

Hostels, schools, and villages were our key focus areas, where we closely worked with adolescent girls and women. Also, our discussions expanded from menstrual health to water, sanitation, and hygiene rights of an individual.

Even though I was diligently involved with this work, I still felt a strong resistance about discussing menstruation in my own house. My sister and mother were quite ignorant about the best hygiene practices during menstruation, and they never wanted to talk about the issue openly.

My mother complained of constant stomach ache, for which no one ever bothered as they thought it was a normal symptom of menstruation. I motivated my mother as well as my father to visit a doctor soon. In the meantime, I began to talk to her about good hygiene practices that should be followed during menstruation. I was astounded at the fact that my mother would use damp cloth during menstruation, and would pay no attention to her diet during those 4-5 days.

With repeated discussions on an everyday basis, my mother understood the importance of good hygiene during menstruation. Today, I can see a great amount of change in her health condition as well as her behavior towards it.

At present, I am an active Core Group Member in my school and have moved on from being the secretary of the Divisional Level Federation of Adolescent Core Group Girl’s Advocacy Group to now being appointed as its Vice President.

As menstrual waste disposal is still an untouched and neglected issue, I have initiated a dialogue with the Municipal Cooperation Chairman of our area to install a facility or a system for safe disposal of sanitary waste in my school.

I want every girl to ignore the taboos associated with menstruation, and be aware, healthy and confident individuals. This does not seem like a difficult task to me anymore. I am determined to make this a reality and set an inspiring example for everyone. Positively, our Core Group Girls have the power of providing a dignified life to every girl!