1st Anniversary Of Ujaas - The Proud Journey Of Menstrual Health & Hygiene Initiative
“A woman must never be afraid or ashamed of her periods.” - Advaitesha Birla
As rightly said, rather than being ashamed, menstruation should be a reason for celebration. A reason for celebration not only for the menstruator but for the whole of society as well. However, the reality is not the same. The utmost important thing here is the hygiene and health of the menstruator, but menstrual health and hygiene are mostly regarded as the least important topic to talk about. Lack of knowledge and awareness about menstrual health and hygiene is the main reason that society has marked it as a taboo eventually.
It is completely true to say that there is no problem with menstruation. The main problem lies in poor menstrual hygiene.
According to a study by UNICEF, 71% of adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation until they get their first period.
23% of girls drop out of school after reaching puberty - according to Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right (2010).
Again, as per the review by WaterAid India, 2/3 of women do not have access to sanitary pads, and 24% of schoolgirls did not attend school during menstruation.
Aren’t these statistics absolutely shocking?
Considering these situations, we, Ujaas, have stepped forward and taken the responsibility of making a positive and meaningful difference in society. This is because we all know that people do not want to discuss it openly.
We, Ujaas, aim at shattering the myths and misconceptions related to menses and we are very happy that we are moving in the right direction. Ujaas, an initiative by Aditya Birla Education Trust, is celebrating its first anniversary today. A year ago, we started our journey believing that the ripples of our efforts will empower menstruators, their betterment of menstrual hygiene awareness, and management for the section of society that lacks the knowledge and resources for the same.
To add more to our laurels, we are a social endeavour that fosters the present and future generations with a CHANGE-centric approach. Working on deep-rooted problems, stigmas, taboos, and challenges that even boil down to menstrual health and hygiene as well as reproductive issues, we, Ujaas, envision ourselves as a change. Moreover, we firmly believe that change begins from within, and we are here to propel the same through awareness and education.
True to our name, Ujaas (which means brightness or light), we are actively involved in dispelling the darkness surrounding menstruation , while simultaneously enlightening adolescent girls and young women in rural India with basic facts and knowledge that help in eradicating the myths and fallacies on something as natural as periods. Period.
Hence, we are working at the grassroots level to empower adolescent girls and women by creating a positive ecosystem of menstrual health.
Our holistic menstrual health program operates on three strong pillars:
- Creating Awareness,
- Distribution of free sanitary napkins, and
- Sustainability – helping communities become self-sufficient in menstrual health and hygiene management.
Until now, we have been able to establish and strengthen the first two pillars of our holistic menstrual health program. So, kudos to us. That said, we have a long way still to go to accomplish our twin objectives of eliminating period shame and bringing down period poverty.
Let’s see how we have worked throughout the past year in eradicating period stigma from society and promoting sustainability in the menstrual health and hygiene landscape.
Workshops for awareness-
Here, we are extremely proud to share the start we have made by conducting over 2000 workshops across India. These awareness sessions are specially designed modules for different stakeholders that allow us to engage with them in the best way possible. We work closely with visually impaired menstruators, families, and communities, including the fathers. We have even conducted workshops in over 400 schools, where boys and teachers participated with great enthusiasm, which encourages us to go on still further.
We believe that educating merely women about menstrual health and hygiene is just half the battle towards making the difference. Why shouldn’t men be a part of this journey, too?
Hence, let’s put the men in menstruation
In India, when it comes to creating awareness about menstrual health and hygiene, young boys and men are totally excluded. There is a deep-rooted feeling of ignorance, disgust, and indifference among the men behind this pattern. When it comes to women, they, too, shun these conversations because of fear, shame, and apprehension, leading to zero awareness about menstruation. Educating boys and girls alike about the facts of menstruation is crucial because boys can serve as a catalyst for change, which will surely ensure that a girl will never be afraid or ashamed of her periods. Period.
In the run-up to Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, Ujaas has launched an online petition titled ‘Let’s put the men in menstruation’. The petition was part of Ujaas’s larger campaign #ChangeThePsychle. It aimed to break the stigma around menstruation and normalise menstrual health conversations.
The Pathos of Adolescent Schoolgirls
So, let’s take a brief glance at how adolescent schoolgirls as well as married women suffer because of the deep-rooted stigma surrounding menstruation.
- The stigma surrounding menstruation negatively impacts schoolgirls , especially their health, quality of life, and access to society, work, and education. Neglect of menstrual hygiene and health is likely to be dangerous to life.
- In some regions of India, a menstruating woman is considered “dirty” and “impure.” This belief leads to numerous restrictions, such as not being allowed to cook or fetch water, refraining from being sexually active, or even being forced to reside in “menstrual huts,” which can turn out to be unsanitary and as well as dangerous.
- It is common for menstruating schoolgirls to skip going to school because they are expected to isolate themselves from the rest of the community. This eventually has a severe impact on their social and economic independence.
- Traditional cultural stereotypes like not being allowed to take a bath and isolation outside the home further aggravate hygiene issues . Menstruating girls do not get a chance to change their clothes, keep them clean, or use clean menstrual products, which ultimately paves the way for a grave health hazard.
- The most common and threatening implication of bad menstrual hygiene is infections and health complications such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), reproductive tract infections, and cervical cancer , among others. Given the fact that discussion and awareness are scarce, medical intervention is rarely sought. Even if it is a given thought, it is usually too late, causing much harm to the suffering girl.
Collaboration with CRY -
Moving forward, we have collaborated with CRY with an impactful campaign - “Let's talk about it. Period”. Through this, we are conducting workshops to create awareness for over 2800+ boys and 850+ girls.
We are delighted to share that the responses for the workshops are amazing, which has made us much more enthusiastic and passionate. Kids are learning about menstruation as a natural process for the very first time. It sparks questions and a plethora of opportunities for further conversations. It will definitely help in reducing period misconception as 45% of the girls in India consider menstruation abnormal.
Lives Touched - Ujaas, being a menstrual health and hygiene initiative, has distributed over 10 lakh sanitary napkins till today. This has helped us to create affordability and accessibility in remote areas, where there is no access to these resources. Eventually, it impacted over 1 lakh individuals.
All of these were possible because of your generous support. Indeed, it’s one of our biggest achievements. Now, we are one step closer to reducing period poverty. Again, we wish to take Ujaas to each and every corner of India to bring down the period poverty completely.
We are Ujaas, and we believe that menstrual health is fundamental to the mental and physical wellbeing of every woman. We envision ourselves as a change as we believe that change starts from within. Let’s start the new year on a bright and positive note under the leadership of our exemplary and visionary founder, Advaitesha Birla, who leads from the front and is our torchbearer for success. Together, let’s #ChangeThePsychle!