Meet Sneha, a 13 year old adolescent menstruator living in rural India.
Sneha’s life drastically changed the day she started menstruating. She misses 5 days of school each month as her school lacks clean, functional toilets and she is too ashamed to ask how to manage her period. She uses a rag to manage the bleeding as nobody has spoken to her about period products, she often feels stinging and discomfort. Sneha does not know who she can ask for help.
In the community Sneha lives in, nobody speaks openly about menstruation as it is a taboo. Period blood is believed to be impure and dirty, resulting in many like Sneha facing overwhelming stigma and fear that is exacerbated by a lack of supportive environments and information at home and in school.
Sneha’s story is not unique. Menstrual stigma means that menstruaros like Sneha are unable to seek support or healthcare and participate in school, workplaces or society equitably during menstruation. This exacerbates existing gender inequity and has long-term consequences on her wellbeing, economic opportunities and quality of life.
Meet Violet Rani, a Swasthya Saathi with Uninhibited. Violet begins her journey to de-stigmatise menstrual and sexual reproductive health within Sneha’s community.
During the start of each month, Violet visits Sneha’s community and gathers a group of adult menstruators, including Sneha’s mother, for PeriodShala. She creates a safe space throughout the month where the group learns about their menstrual and sexual reproductive health. Violet similarly gathers a group of men, including Sneha’s father, and discusses men’s sexual reproductive health. She builds up to the final, joint session where couples come together, overcoming their shame to openly discuss these topics, thus creating a supportive environment for Sneha to seek support at home
During the same month, Violet visits Sneha’s school and creates a safe space for adolescent boys and menstruators to learn about their bodies. She shares safe menstrual hygienic practices and includes Sneha’s teachers and the school principal in the conversation to sensitise them about the needs of their students while menstruating at school.
Violet’s holistic approach to de-stigmatising menstrual and sexual reproductive health meant that Sneha’s perception of menstruation changed. She no longer believed herself impure and felt comfortable talking about her period with her friends. Sneha sought information when she felt like she had an infection from using a rag and started making informed choices about period products. Sneha rallied her peers and initiated a conversation with school management to provide access to free sanitary napkins and functional WASH facilities. Sneha no longer misses 5 days of school each month.
Since Sneha’s mother initiated a conversation with her around her period being a natural, healthy process, Sneha also participates in society equitably, attending religious occasions, accessing public spaces and participating in community festivities even while she menstruates. She is comfortable seeking support from her family and manages her cramps better.
Even after Violet has moved on from this community, Sneha, her mother and father access credible advice and telemedicine via Hello Saathi, our free menstrual and sexual reproductive helpline.
We have impacted over 200,000 menstruators and allies in marginalised communities across 10 states in India. School absenteeism of adolescent menstruators has halved post our PeriodShala program, while adolescents increased conversations around menstruation by 70%. Only 2 out of 10 adolescents visited a temple while menstruating, after PeriodShala 7 out of 10 felt comfortable.
We’re proud to see menstruators reclaiming spaces in schools, workplaces and communities and improving their overall health and wellbeing. Support our journey to reach 2.5 million menstruators and allies over the next five years to improve gender equity in marginalised communities.
Sukhibhava Foundation is a tax-exempt charitable trust registered in Bengaluru, India. Reg. No. MLS-4-00014-2016-18.
Gramin Vikas Samiti is a registered society with the Registrar, Firm & Societies Chandigarh, India. Reg. No. HR-018-2012-00121.
Uninhibited Australia Ltd is a registered company under the Corporations Act 2001 in Victoria, Australia. Australian Company Number (ACN) 647 986 365.