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India has an unlikely new sort of interval well being educators: males

They can carry their dirty sanitary napkins to a fetid, overflowing open rubbish dump 100 meters (328 toes) away. Or they will stuff them down the drain or throw them out the small window of this tiny bathroom block, and keep away from the disgrace that comes with carrying their waste within the open.

Across the nation, girls in lots of houses aren’t allowed to cook dinner or contact anybody throughout their interval as they’re thought of impure and soiled. Some are even requested to sleep on the ground, or exterior the home, for a number of days till it passes.

That social disgrace can stop girls from speaking overtly about menstruation, which means many women aren’t taught secure, hygienic practices.

For years, authorities initiatives and non-profit teams have been making an attempt to vary this — particularly in rural areas the place the issue is most prevalent.

But now, a brand new breed of community-minded volunteers and entrepreneurs is rising to assist unfold consciousness of menstrual points — and a few of them are males.

Men tackling social stigma

Nishant Bangera, 28, first discovered in regards to the difficulties Indian girls face throughout their interval when he took a company social duty program supplied by his employer three years in the past.

The activist was shocked by how little he knew about period-related social stigma, consciousness and hygiene, so he began an initiative referred to as Period of Sharing to interrupt the stereotypes round durations.

That initiative holds consciousness classes and talks throughout slums and faculties, and organizes “Maasika Mahotsav” — an annual week-long pageant that tries to dispel the myths round menstruation via theater, music, dance, and video games.

Bangera recruited male in addition to feminine pageant volunteers as a result of he believes it’s crucial for genders to work collectively to normalize one thing that’s simply biology.

But in India, menstruation is about way more than biology. It’s about outdated beliefs, social pressures — and prices.

Many girls in India can not afford sanitary napkins — and lots of aren’t conscious of hygienic options.

A 2015 National Family Health Survey of girls aged 15 to 24 confirmed solely about 58% used napkins and tampons that have been thought of to be hygienic.

Menstrual well being activist Swati Bedekar mentioned some girls in rural India use no matter they will as substitutes — even sand, ash or cow dung.

Bedekar is the founding father of the Vatsalya Foundation, Vododara, a company primarily based in Gujarat that helps girls arrange pad-making models at residence to generate revenue and promote hygienic menstrual care choices.

She mentioned when girls use rags or material, they usually do not wash or dry them correctly to keep away from the disgrace of the material being seen.

That can have a damaging well being affect: Reproductive tract infections are 70% extra frequent amongst Indian girls with poor menstrual hygiene, in accordance with a examine cited in a 2014 report by philanthropic group Dasra.
Co-founder of Red Cycle, Arjun Unnikrishnan, stands as he gives an awareness session about menstrual hygiene in St Thomas Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

The similar report says women’ training may undergo. Access to water and bathrooms is proscribed in some rural areas, whereas some faculties have no bathrooms in any respect. For many women, it is simpler to remain at residence when they’re menstruating, which is not solely deprives them of an training but in addition limits the nation’s financial development.

Keeping women at school might add billions of {dollars} to the Indian economic system and assist push the nation nearer to reaching gender equality, the report mentioned.

Men ‘cannot do all of the speaking’

Bangera is not the primary man to get entangled in menstruation training.

Back in 2014, Arunachalam Muruganantham was named certainly one of Time’s 100 most influential folks of the yr for making good-quality sanitary napkins for his spouse.
Indian students make reusable cloth sanitary napkins on Menstrual Hygiene Day in Guwahati on May 28, 2019.
He did so after realizing that she was utilizing previous cloths to cope with her durations, a apply extensively adopted by different girls of their small, southern Indian metropolis of Coimbatore, within the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. His story impressed the 2018 Bollywood film “Pad Man,” which featured main man Akshay Kumar holding up pads as a part of the movie’s promotional stills.
Inspired by Muruganantham, 26-year-old Chitransh Saxena, began MyPad Bank, an NGO that distributes sanitary napkins to underprivileged girls in Bareilly, a metropolis in Uttar Pradesh.

A go to from his crew was a brand new expertise for Nisha, a 25-year-old mom who lives in Bareilly and goes by one identify.

“I’ve always been used by men,” mentioned Nisha, whose husband left her when she was pregnant along with her second little one. “Here was a man helping out by giving pads. Why would he and his team waste time if they didn’t want to do good by us?”

Nisha outside her home in Banjara Basti, Thane, on January 5, 2020
In 2015, legislation scholar Arjun Unnikrishnan co-founded The Red Cycle, which works in direction of making girls conscious of their proper to good menstruation hygiene.

The 23-year-old mentioned the rising involvement of males reveals a socio-cultural shift, the place younger folks take motion on points that matter to them.

But he cautions that males are solely facilitators — they cannot do all of the speaking. “I don’t think men can dominate the space as we are non-menstruators,” mentioned Unnikrishnan, who is predicated within the southwestern state of Kerala.

Although it’s nonetheless uncommon to see males within the menstruation training house, girls are sometimes receptive to their involvement.

Akarsh Tekriwal, the 28-year-old founding father of Safecup, a sustainable menstrual cup aimed toward city Indians, remembers the primary time he carried out consciousness classes on sustainable menstruation in April 2019.

“(I) asked them if they would be comfortable with me talking to them or should I ask a female team member to take over,” he mentioned.

But the group of 50 girls at a company agency requested him to proceed. “I realized the mind block was in my head and not much in theirs and why we need these open conversations involving both genders,” he mentioned.

A man walks past a wall painting about female menstruation at a school for underprivileged children on Menstrual Hygiene Day in Guwahati on May 28, 2019.

But it isn’t all the time simple.

During Bangera’s casual consciousness classes, the husbands and fathers of girls concerned typically hovered round. “One of them shouted at me for speaking to the women about these things,” he mentioned. “But eventually (they) did come to watch our programs from the side lines.”

Women, too, have not all the time been receptive. “I did find it odd initially that a man was talking to me about periods,” mentioned Sadhana, a 35-year-old mother-of-four, who declined to present her surname.

Bangera’s crew visited Sadhana’s tribal village in Sanjay Gandhi National Park close to Mumbai.

“I have seen the impact it has had on the women here and even some men,” she mentioned, explaining that previously girls did not wish to spoil good material to be used throughout their durations, however now they understand that not doing so can result in infections.

The patriarchy in India

Getting males concerned in menstrual well being training is usually an excellent factor — however it additionally exposes how Indian patriarchal society could be.

Swati Bedekar’s engineer husband, Shyam Bedekar, developed the Vatsalya Foundation’s natural sanitary pad-making machine.

But whereas Bedekar has been been on the forefront of the Vatsalya Foundation, giving talks in villages throughout Gujarat, she mentioned her husband’s involvement had helped them to make a deeper affect than she might have alone.

Girls in Nepal sleep in 'menstruation huts' despite ban, study finds

“A woman’s word against the unhygienic and superstitious practices of periods is not enough in creating an impact in some cases due to (patriarchy),” Bedekar mentioned. “The reality is, in a patriarchal rural setting, sometimes when he asks a family to let a woman rest during a painful period, they may be more likely to listen to him than me.”

“This definitely speaks of the deep-rooted sexism that’s prevalent in our society,” she mentioned. “But that’s how it’s.

Over the previous 10 years, Bedekar has seen attitudes change in rural areas, with extra folks now accepting that durations aren’t an impure inconvenience, however a organic problem that requires a secure resolution.

A decade in the past, she noticed aged girls refuse to let their daughters-in-law work in a pad-making unit. Now, there are males in Vadodara, the place she is predicated, who assist their wives make the pads after they get residence from work, by attaching the adhesive strips and packaging them up, she mentioned.

In the slum in Banjara Basti, some girls have begun to vary their habits.

Nisha with a My Padbank team member, Delapeer Slum, Bareilly, India on December 3, 2019.

“When these folks, even the boys, got here and spoke to us, I figured there was nothing soiled about this,” mentioned 16-year-old Nisha Jayram Rathod.

“Gradually I’ve been capable of persuade my mother and father too. Now even when I cook dinner throughout my durations, everybody eats at residence. That’s the large change that I additionally inform my buddies about.”

Aarti Shiva, 20, now wraps her dirty sanitary napkins in a sheet of previous newspaper and trashes them as responsibly as she will be able to, relatively than shoving them out the window.

She additionally would not really feel awkward now about asking her brother — who noticed talks on the slum — to get her pads when she’s menstruating, an enormous step in a group the place many menstruating girls have lengthy been advised to not go close to males.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of about menstruation,” she said. “It’s a present from God.”

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