Breaking the silence around menstruation is essential to promote the well-being and empowerment of women and girls. The menstrual hygiene awareness program by Karuna-Shechen aims to foster sustainable practices and encourages women to take care of themselves when they experience menstrual issues.

Two members of Karuna, Asifa, a health counselor in Bihar, and Nikita, program coordinator in Darjeeling, along with two participants, Kalpana and Jirhul, share their experiences and viewpoints with us.

Informing to build confidence

Asifa Khatun and Nikita Rai, working for Karuna in India, describe the challenges and efforts involved in sensitizing girls and women. Karuna’s trainers start by identifying the participants’ basic knowledge to better understand their biases and beliefs, thus adapting the sessions to their needs and questions. Classroom sessions target girls from 12 years old, while willing adults, both men and women, can attend dedicated sessions.

At any age, the issue of menstrual hygiene is generally met with some hesitation: “At the beginning of the sessions, I usually see some discomfort among the participants, which is why I organize an initial session to make them feel comfortable by playing games, linking them to the awareness session,” shares Nikita.

Asifa then explains the running of the training: “We start the session by introducing ourselves and asking the girls to share their first menstrual story. To avoid any hesitation, I usually start with my own story. This opens up communication and ensures a confident session.

The program primarily focuses on the menstrual cycle. The trainers take the time to explain its impact on women’s lives and bodies. Considering the consequences of the cycle, they can then explain in more detail the various ways to maintain hygiene during menstruation. Each session is accompanied by the distribution of sanitary pads and reusable cloth pads.

Deep-rooted menstrual myths

Some myths are deeply ingrained, but we present logical and scientific reasoning to address them without challenging religious norms

Asifa Khatun, health counselor at Karuna-Shechen in Bodhgaya

Menstruation is still taboo in many societies today. Lack of information and the shame that can arise on this subject lead to hygiene problems and misinformation about women’s bodies. Menstruating individuals are often subjected to social stigma, such as not being allowed to participate in religious practices or sit with male family members.

Nikita emphasizes the primary goal of these training sessions is to break the silence surrounding menstruation : “I consider a session successful when participants start asking questions and sharing their experiences. I have observed that participants, especially volunteers, including male volunteers, have been able to talk about periods in their community thanks to this awareness, which is a significant breakthrough in communities where the topic is taboo. Each person comes out with clearer ideas about the biological process of menstruation and understands that it has nothing to do with impurity.”

One participant, 24-year-old Kalpana Sardar, a mother of four, shared with our teams the constraints and myths surrounding menstruation. Previously, she and the other women in her household used to dry their clothes inside the house, out of shame and fear of black magic. If they hung their clothes out in the sun, they had to cover them with larger clothes. Kalpana Sardar mentions the stigmatization and pressures faced by girls and women, under threat of black magic that could harm them and affect their ability to conceive. Upon returning home, Kalpana shared everything she learned during the sessions with her family and neighbors, thus opening up dialogue thanks to the awareness program.

Communication is a crucial issue in the lives of the participants. By sharing their experiences, they realize that they are not alone in feeling pain during their cycle. They share their loneliness and the lack of information about possible solutions to alleviate their discomfort. During the sessions, the trainers then discuss different methods to relieve these pains, as Afisa Khatun explains: “We discuss home remedies, yoga poses, nutritional needs, as well as various myths in the community. We strive to make the session interactive by answering every question.”

Opening the dialogue

As the sessions progress, Asifa notes positive feedback : “Initially, the girls may be hesitant to open up during the first part of the session. However, as they progress, they often develop interest and may even ask questions on the subject. Some girls share that, after class, they discuss what they have learned with their parents when they return home.”

After each awareness program, some participants give feedback. Many share that they have learned a lot about health and menstrual hygiene. They also become aware of the importance of passing on their knowledge to their children.

Nikita Rai, program coordinator in Darjeeling

Impact beyond the sessions

After three months of sessions, the Karuna-Shechen teams gather feedback. Asifa then testifies to the positive impact of this initiative: “Not only have adolescent girls improved their practices, but they have also shared their experiences with their family and friends. The sessions trigger a positive chain reaction, demonstrating the impact of our efforts.

Jirhul Kumari, a 17-year-old student, shares her experience: “We gained valuable knowledge during the sessions. Previously, I used any old fabric available during my period. However, learning about the consequences on my body led me to switch to sanitary pads provided by the trainer.”

I appreciated how easily we could openly discuss topics that are not usually addressed.

Jirhul Kumari, participant

As for Kalpana Sardar, she continues to apply the practices she learned during the sessions. She, in turn, encourages her family members to maintain good menstrual hygiene and discuss the misconceptions and myths surrounding menstruation.

Asifa Khatun notes the change brought about by this awareness work: “Some participants, by discussing with their families, raise awareness within their community. Despite societal taboos, this experience highlights the crucial need to open up dialogue on menstrual hygiene education. I feel immense satisfaction in contributing to the well-being of society.”

The different experiences of these women highlight the importance of sharing knowledge. By overcoming the taboo of menstruation, Nikita Rai and Asifa Khatun enable Kalpana Sardar and Jirhul Kumari to do the same within their community. They take control of their bodies by understanding them a little more each day.

Contribute to menstrual awareness for girls and women in India