It was ideas galore as delegates from four districts gathered at a menstrual hygiene management (MHM) seminar hosted by RC Seven Hills Dharwad, RID 3170. Discussions ranged from why men should also understand menstruation and how they can help in making it easy for women, to how girls need not stay tied to their homes just because they are menstruating. When a male delegate asked why this was referred to as “periods”, a woman delegate quipped: “This shows how we, at least in Rotary, have come a long way in discussing menstruation openly without inhibitions and are perfectly comfortable to discuss it here with men. The silence needs to be broken everywhere.”
The meet focused on educating teachers to train students to handle menstruation sensibly and in a healthy manner. Teachers and students from government schools around Dharwad were present. The children were given Happy Kits, each containing two cotton reusable sanitary pads, a bottle of handwash lotion, a soap and some chocolates. PDG Ganesh Bhat convened the event and Sandhya Masurkar, wife of DG Girish Masurkar inaugurated it. Host club president Gauri Tavargeri welcomed the delegates. DG Masurkar, DGND Venkatesh Deshpande and DG Nayan Patil (RID 3160) participated.
Menstruation has always been clouded in misconceptions that have been perpetuated over generations. Period taboos exist across the world, said Gauri. In Malawi, menstruating women cannot cook with salt, because it is believed their teeth may fall out! In our country they are not supposed to bathe or touch pickles on menstruating days, she added.
We, in Rotary, have come a long way in discussing menstruation openly without inhibitions and are perfectly comfortable to discuss it here with men.
The stigma attached to menstruation continues to hold back communities in rural and backward areas everywhere. “This is only the tip of the iceberg. We must work towards managing menstrual hygiene so that no girl is held back at home because she is menstruating. And like how we initiated handwash and use of toilets at homes, girl children must be trained to be catalysts of change that they go back home and teach their mothers, relatives and neighbours to manage their periods safely and hygienically,” said Bhat, a member of Rotary India WinS Recognition Committee. He said MHM is part of WinS as it focuses on health and hygiene issues.
For a woman to manage her period hygienically and with dignity and confidence, she needs a support system “and who knows what she feels,” said Dr Meenakshi Bharat, a gynaecologist and member of RC Bangalore West, RID 3190. She advocated “sustainable menstruation” through reusable pads and a menstrual cup. “The pads we use now are not as harmless as they seem. They are toxic,” she said and discouraged clubs from promoting disposable sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators. Reusable cotton pads last for 2–3 years. “These have no chemicals, are environment-friendly and cost ₹200. Imagine the good you will be doing to the environment, while also helping an underprivileged girl.”
Shweta Shurpali, who has a doctorate in environmental law, pointed out that rules should be drafted for their organised disposal, similar to disposal of bio-medical waste. “As of now, they are treated as solid waste and are hazardous to the environment.”
A panel discussion on best practices to create awareness among people generated interesting thoughts.
Dr Rajeswari Kulkarni, wife of PDG Anand Kulkarni, recalled how in 2017–18, she formed an Anns club with spouses of Rotarians as members. “We visited schools in the district and talked to teachers and adolescent girls about MHM, and convened a PTA meet in various schools to counsel parents with doctors’ support.” They would visit villages and educate women about proper use of sanitary napkins and their disposal. Older children in schools were trained to introduce the subject on menstrual cycle and its management to their juniors on the threshold of puberty.
One teacher shared her experience on how involving fathers in PTA sessions about MHM has helped them understand the biological process better and enhanced the emotional bonding in the family. “Let’s stop whispering about periods and empower the men about it so that they understand the psychology of women and look at them them with respect,” added Dr Meenakshi.
RCC members share a good rapport with villagers. They, as also Rotaractors, make good ambassadors for the MHM programme among women.
Shikha Patil, wife of RID 3160 DG Nayan Patil, admitted that MHM was a new concept and the seminar had enlightened her to address the issue in various ways in her district, including the concept of menstrual cup as an effective way of managing periods.
The role of RCCs in educating the rural population was highlighted. “RCC members have better access and share a good rapport, especially with villagers. So their messages and suggestions are readily absorbed by the people. They, as also Rotaractors, make good ambassadors for the MHM programme among women,” said Dr Geeta Kaushik, member, RID 3182.
Dr Pricilla Thomas, a gynaecologist, shed light on medicines that ease menstrual cramps. “Many people have their own reservations about taking these tablets even though I prescribe them. Myths such as it will cause infertility abound. Menstrual cramps need not stop girls from attending school,” she said.
The audience became interactive when a teacher mentioned a prevalent practice of postponing menstrual cycle with medicines during religious events. “Why is this practised in this age? Isn’t it time we accept the fact that it is a biological process and need not interfere with religious practices,” she asked.
Utkarsha Patil, wife of DGE Sangram Patil, shared her experience as Inner Wheel Chair in spreading MHM awareness. Rotary should join hands with Inner Wheel to make an effective penetration among women everywhere, she said. Rotary can take corporate support for distributing reusable sanitary pads among women and girls which will ensure hygienic period management, suggested
Event Chair Renuka Salunke said several girls are staying away from school due to lack of awareness on menstruation and more such seminars will help spread the message. “We want to reach out to at least 10,000 girls,” she added.
The workshop was sponsored by Kishore Lulla, a member of RC Sangli, and he handed over cheque of ₹5 lakh for TRF to DG Masurkar at the event. Assistant Governor Sanjay Ingale proposed a vote of thanks.
Pictures by Jaishree