In April this year, as the World Health Organisation marked its 75th anniversary under the theme of #HealthForAll, the focus on reproductive health and well-being for everyone is more critical than ever. Particularly in India’s rural and hilly border villages, many girls face stigma and discrimination simply because they menstruate. Breaking period-related taboos and ensuring safe, hygienic, and dignified menstruation for all girls is essential. Moreover, a substantial number of women in India still lose their lives due to preventable complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. There is an urgent need to sensitize communities on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), strengthen healthcare systems, and promote equitable access to quality healthcare for women.
In April 2020, ActionAid Association embarked on a journey to make a difference by working with adolescent girls and young women aged 15-25 from Gujjar and Bakarwal communities in Jammu and Kashmir. Many of these girls lack accurate information about menstruation and are bound by cultural taboos and discriminatory social norms, leading to unhealthy menstrual practices. To address this issue, AAA and subject experts conducted workshops to enhance their understanding of Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH). We distributed sanitary napkins to 190 girls at GB Hostel in the Miskeen Bagh area of Srinagar.
This year, AAA launched an intervention in Baramulla to promote menstrual health and advance SRHR among women and girls. We collaborated with local ASHA workers and block-level health officials to address issues faced by women and girls.
Here are two impact stories from April 2023 of adolescent girls who benefited from AAA’s interventions:
Aisha: A 16-year-old class 10 student from the Lolab Valley in Kupwara, Jammu and Kashmir, Aisha grew up adhering to menstruation-related restrictions. She grew up under the prevailing false beliefs regarding puberty: “Don’t take a bath when menstruating, which harms the uterus”, “Avoid drinking too much water”, “Don’t play sports while on periods”, and “You can’t participate in religious activities”. Aisha, too, had started adhering to the same restrictions that other menstruating girls and women in her Gujjarcommunity followed upon reaching puberty. Her father, a daily wager, moved her after completing seventh standard in school to Srinagar to study at Gujjar-Bakarwal Boarding School, which provides free-of-cost education to girls from tribal communities. After moving to Srinagar, Aisha’s understanding of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) underwent a phenomenal change thanks to the interventions by the AAA team at her hostel.
Muskaanis: A 16-year-old from Lolab Kupwara, Muskaanis overcame misconceptions about menstruation after AAA’s intervention and now educates other girls in her community about MHM and the importance of girls’ education. During visits to her village, she also tries to talk to older women about MHM. She now strives to remove the misconceptions about periods from females in her community.Furthermore, she has explained the negativity related to early marriage to her parents, and now her parents want her to study further.
These stories reflect the transformative power of education and awareness in breaking taboos, empowering girls, and fostering change!
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