I have started the series of Menstrual Awareness Workshops on May 28, the World Menstrual Hygiene Day in a small hamlet called Puthu Road, which is in the Kodiakadu Panchayat, part of the Point Calimere Reserve Forest, in Vedaranyam, Tamil Nadu. This introductory session was conducted with major help and support from Ecofemme, based out of Auroville. Harishini Mugundan of Ecofemme had led the entire session with ease and taught us enough to conduct future sessions on our own. 22 girls participated here.
The men folk in Puthu Road go for fishing in the swamps and seas and the women are mostly dependant on the salt pan labour for their daily wages. The children mostly go to school for as long as they feel like, mostly stopping after class 10 or 12. Girls start helping in household chores, and if there are younger siblings, mostly they drop out of school post puberty and help look after home and younger kids. Boys stop their studies to go for the traditional job of fishing, load carrying or driving in salt pans, or go to Malaysia, Singapore or middle east for jobs in factories.
As part of the base line survey conducted 2 months back, I was aware that except for 2 girls (who have done diploma in Nursing) here, no one had any knowledge about the actual process of menstruation. They claimed that the teachers don’t team them the chapter on Reproductive System in schools. Mothers and grannies have accepted periods as an inevitable part of woman life. They also informed that they get the usual quota of 6 packets of napkins from school every 2 months. However, all of them said that it was of very poor quality, easily tearing off, in an hour or two; because of which they end up buying pads from shops. They also said that they have been told that every woman should definitely use pads, as they are the best and safest option. Women and girls had also shared their shyness and the myths and taboos associated with periods. Thus I had an idea before hand itself, what all needs to introduced through the awareness camp.
The camp had started with the sharing of personal stories, followed by explaining the concept of menstruation, menstrual cycle. They all made the menstrual cycle using different coloured seeds and were able to answer all questions around it. It gave them a sense of confidence around their grasp of things. The group activities and quizzes opened them up really well, and started interacting a lot during those. Other menstrual management products such as tampons and menstrual cups attracted their curiosity. They all had amazing expressions while touching and feeling those.
The activities also gave them a better perspective on the myths and taboos being practised. We also did not go deep into the myths and taboos, nor did we judge those. We just provided enough material for them to think over, and hopefully come up to us during the final survey. Some home remedies, locally available medicinal plants, simple exercises too were demonstrated.
The cloth pads from Ecofemme was introduced and gifted to them. A set of 5 pads were given to each girl present. Thus a total of 110 pads, sponsored by Ecofemme and Phaemie Ng (Two Rags) were given. Among the gifted pads, were unstitched ones. We next had a session on pad making, where the girls were taught the aspects on what goes into a pad and why. They all got very much engaged and excited once the pad making began. That is when they all became naturally comfortable with themselves, each other and with us. In fact, when we were going and personally explaining to the girls about the pad making steps, they started asking more questions. About 5-7 of them made decent pads, while the rest of them not were skilled enough. After the session, we realized that this was a very important step, as the girls got a very personal attachment to the pad. As I have myself started using a pad which was hand stitched by me, I can relate a lot to this.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: I would like to thank SBI Youth for India and M S Swaminathan Research Foundation for the opportunity to live in a village and identify the needs there; Kathy Walkling of Ecofemme, Auroville for all her goodwill and support in making this possible, Harishini Mugundan of Ecofemme, Auroville for taking the effort to come from Pondicherry to Vedaranyam to make this happen, Phaemie Ng founder of social enterprise Two Rags (Australia) for sponsoring the pads, Suseela, Amaravathi, Arul Selvam, Sivakumar, Capt. Dr. Rajan, Vimal, Ravichandran (MSSRF Vedaranyam staff) and Dr. V. Selvam, Director Coastal Systems Research, MSSRF for all the support in making this happen.
Lastly, I would love to thank my husband, Ajith, who has been with me all through this, and is still continuing his support.