Photos: Breaking the silence around menstrual hygiene in rural India

May 28th marks World Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day), a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government and private agencies, individuals, and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management. The vision of MH Day is to create a world where every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely and without shame over something as natural and normal as her period. WaterAid India presents two case studies from rural Uttar Pradesh that show work towards breaking stigma around periods, normalizing conversations about menstrual health and promoting good hygiene.

Updated On May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST
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“What do you do when you are expecting guests in the house?” Anju Maurya (C, right), a block coordinator with WaterAid India and its partner asks a group of women of all ages under a shady tree in front of village Panchayat Office in Sonva, Bakshi Ka Talab block of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. “I prepare some nice food,” one lady pipes up. “I make sure my house is clean,” says another. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

“What do you do when you are expecting guests in the house?” Anju Maurya (C, right), a block coordinator with WaterAid India and its partner asks a group of women of all ages under a shady tree in front of village Panchayat Office in Sonva, Bakshi Ka Talab block of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. “I prepare some nice food,” one lady pipes up. “I make sure my house is clean,” says another. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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“This is exactly how all of us must prepare for our period!” Maurya responds. “We all know roughly when it is going to come – so like you’d prepare for a guest, keep some cotton strips cleaned and ready, make sure you look after your own nutrition and plan your time well,” she adds. There is almost a carnival-like atmosphere here. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

“This is exactly how all of us must prepare for our period!” Maurya responds. “We all know roughly when it is going to come – so like you’d prepare for a guest, keep some cotton strips cleaned and ready, make sure you look after your own nutrition and plan your time well,” she adds. There is almost a carnival-like atmosphere here. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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The women laugh and talk among themselves as they share their stories. “They all know they can say whatever they like for this is a safe space,” says Maurya. Such meetings have helped make menstruation relatively more mainstream in the village today. “Very often, there are young girls who haven’t even started their period... and hopefully when their time comes, they will be more matter-of-fact about it.” (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

The women laugh and talk among themselves as they share their stories. “They all know they can say whatever they like for this is a safe space,” says Maurya. Such meetings have helped make menstruation relatively more mainstream in the village today. “Very often, there are young girls who haven’t even started their period... and hopefully when their time comes, they will be more matter-of-fact about it.” (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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The conversation next veers on to how to prepare cloth pads for those who can’t afford sanitary napkins. “You can use any old cotton cloth for this,” says Anju, “but ensure that you wash it in disinfectant and dry in full sun!” A woman says that she is embarrassed to do this. Before Anju can respond, some of the other women tell her that periods are nothing to be ashamed of. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

The conversation next veers on to how to prepare cloth pads for those who can’t afford sanitary napkins. “You can use any old cotton cloth for this,” says Anju, “but ensure that you wash it in disinfectant and dry in full sun!” A woman says that she is embarrassed to do this. Before Anju can respond, some of the other women tell her that periods are nothing to be ashamed of. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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Similarly, Mohanlalganj block in Lucknow showcases another example of breaking the silence around menstruation. In a bright green sari, Krishna Devi sits in her small wooden kiosk outside her house in Lalpur village. Jars of rusks and candies are neatly placed in clear view. Devi is a ‘Titli’ (butterfly), a designated distributor of information as well as sanitary pads to the women of her community. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

Similarly, Mohanlalganj block in Lucknow showcases another example of breaking the silence around menstruation. In a bright green sari, Krishna Devi sits in her small wooden kiosk outside her house in Lalpur village. Jars of rusks and candies are neatly placed in clear view. Devi is a ‘Titli’ (butterfly), a designated distributor of information as well as sanitary pads to the women of her community. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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Menstrual hygiene booklets are given to women and girls in the village for greater awareness and reach. A boy comes up to her to buy rusks, while a young girl shyly waits till he leaves before whispering for a packet of ‘pads’. “Don’t be shy!” Devi admonishes her gently. “Every woman gets periods – it’s time we stopped being embarrassed about them!” (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

Menstrual hygiene booklets are given to women and girls in the village for greater awareness and reach. A boy comes up to her to buy rusks, while a young girl shyly waits till he leaves before whispering for a packet of ‘pads’. “Don’t be shy!” Devi admonishes her gently. “Every woman gets periods – it’s time we stopped being embarrassed about them!” (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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Even today, sanitary napkins aren’t easily available in the village and women often find it difficult to trek to the market. A member of their own community stocking them is very convenient. “In our culture, periods are seen as `dirty’,” Devi says. “My job is to break not only that myth, but also the silence around them.” This silence, she says, causes so many women to live in ignorance and embarrassment. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

Even today, sanitary napkins aren’t easily available in the village and women often find it difficult to trek to the market. A member of their own community stocking them is very convenient. “In our culture, periods are seen as `dirty’,” Devi says. “My job is to break not only that myth, but also the silence around them.” This silence, she says, causes so many women to live in ignorance and embarrassment. (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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Krishna Devi and other women spread neem leaves in waste collection bins. She also helps make simple sanitary waste incinerators –not an ideal disposal method but a cleaner, more discreet option, prevalent in rural areas –at home. Devi says her work has brought a certain standing in the community. “And I won’t rest until every girl and woman in my village is able to have safe and healthy periods!” (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)
Updated on May 28, 2019 12:53 PM IST

Krishna Devi and other women spread neem leaves in waste collection bins. She also helps make simple sanitary waste incinerators –not an ideal disposal method but a cleaner, more discreet option, prevalent in rural areas –at home. Devi says her work has brought a certain standing in the community. “And I won’t rest until every girl and woman in my village is able to have safe and healthy periods!” (WaterAid / Dhiraj Singh)

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Monday, June 27, 2022