May 28- Menstrual Hygiene Day! In this blog post you’ll learn about how this day initially came to be a thing, why it’s relevant to HEEALS, and why it is relevant to YOU!
So, let’s start with some introductions. Menstrual Hygiene Day began in 2013 when an organization called WASH United got together and began laying out plans. On May 28, 2014 (four years ago today!) Menstrual Hygiene Day was really born. Since then, it has blossomed into a global opportunity to discuss issues women face surrounding menstruation and a chance to educate people about these issues. In 2017, India was the country with the most events  - we had a total of 67! Hopefully this year we’ll be able to even top that.
Since 2012, HEEALS has been doing menstrual hygiene workshops in schools in the Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi areas. These workshops have had a focus on healthy and safe menstrual hygiene practices as well as on the need to address the stigma that is so prevalent around the world, but specifically in Indian society. 71% of girls in India don’t even know what menstruation is before they get their first period. This stems from the fact that periods are treated as something shameful, something that makes a girl or woman impure. This year, HEEALS is taking a focus on menstrual hygiene for May 28 because of how important we believe this topic is. Menstrual hygiene doesn’t deserve our attention just one week out of every month. We should be talking about it constantly, until everyone is having shame-free periods. When we as women don’t speak about this natural human process, it only amplifies the feelings of uncertainty, fear, and embarrassment that young girls are experiencing in relation to their periods.
For the last six years, HEEALS has been stepping up to distribute sanitary pads to girls in the schools that we visit. Since there is a lack of discussion about menstruation in India, many girls and women are using unsafe materials to absorb their flow every month. These materials can range from cloth pads that simply haven’t been washed properly all the way to even ash. While cloth pads are an amazing and eco-friendly option if they’re washed and dried properly, the sad fact is that many girls using these are resorting to washing them quickly and leaving them to dry in a hidden part of their room, under their bed, or in a cupboard to avoid being discovered. This type of unhygienic practice can lead to infections and has even been linked to more serious issues like cervical cancer and reproductive infections.
Here at HEEALS, we understand our limitations. While we are working hard to promote discussion around menstruation through workshops with school girls and their families, we understand that we cannot change a culture of secrecy overnight. This is why we are also using our resources to equip girls with a healthier and safer alternative: the sanitary pad. After every workshop that we host, we spend some time distributing sanitary pads to the girls and women present. While sanitary pads are available in stores in India, there are often several factors that are preventing girls and women from purchasing and using them. Often girls and women are ashamed to have to purchase these in public. Other times, women in rural area would need to walk several kilometres just to reach the closest store where they are sold. Sometimes, pads are simply unaffordable. Even if only one of these limitations were preventing the use of sanitary pads, it is still always difficult to change habits that have lasted for generations.
By distributing the pads immediately after discussing the dangers that accompany unhygienic practices we are hoping that women and girls will see enough benefit in making the switch that even after they use the pads we provide them, they will be motivated to either begin using sanitary pads regularly or ensuring that the cloth pads they are using are properly cleaned and dried.
I promised at the beginning that I would tell you about how you can help and how you can get involved. Here’s the main way: start talking! Talk with your family members -male and female- to ensure that girls are educated about how to stay healthy and that boys are also educated about what menstruation is. If we can ensure that girls have no need to feel ashamed about a natural bodily function and that boys understand what their mothers, sisters, and friends are experiencing every month, we can begin to create a society that supports and equips menstruating girls and women rather than pushing them into hiding like a secret that needs to dry out under a bed or in a closet. When we are educating boys and men, we are taking an important step towards
A second way that you can help is financially. As a non-profit organization, HEEALS relies on our generous sponsors and donors in order to be able to run our workshops and provide sanitary pads. If you are interested in providing financial support for our menstrual hygiene management workshops or our ‘Pads for Girls’ project, please connect with firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
If you haven’t already, be sure to ‘like’ HEEALS’ page on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter!
Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day! J
WASH & Menstrual Hygiene Intern Coordinator