Open conversations about taboo topics empower Puja; she further educates 600 adolescents
Discrimination against menstruating women is widespread in India. Menstruation is the natural part of the reproductive cycle but has long been taboo and considered impure. It first occurs in girls usually between the age of 11 and 14 years and is one of the indicators of the onset of puberty among them.
Despite being a phenomenon unique to girls, this has always been surrounded by secrecy and myths in many societies. Women are subject to restrictions in their daily lives simply because they are menstruating. They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines, and even kept out of kitchens.
Apart from the discrimination, there is also a lack of conversation about periods. According to studies, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they get it themselves. Parents rarely prepare their daughters for something they know is bound to happen. This unpreparedness leads to avoidable fear and anxiety.
From an early age, girls learn to live with pain and fear, and seldom do we see a girl seek help when in physical or mental discomfort due to periods.
Puja, a 20-year-old girl from – also faced the same struggle growing up. Unaware of the bodily changes she was going through, Puja could not speak to anyone about her fears for many years.
However, after attending a workshop named – Young Health Programme (YHP) organized by AstraZeneca and Plan India her life changed. The YHP is AstraZeneca’s global community investment initiative. It aims to help young people, around the world, deal with the health problems they face and improve their chances for a better life in the future.
After attending the programme in 2021, today Puja has educated more than 600 other adolescents about reproductive health and menstrual hygiene.
A life-changing experience
After attaining puberty, Puja had many questions about what was happening to her body. However, she lived in a joint family and could never find alone time with her mother. Even when she did, her mother hushed her and told her not to ask questions.
Sessions conducted at the HIC
She began losing confidence in her family for information on her sexual and reproductive health. But she remained conscious of wanting to learn and kept looking to enquire from someone reliable. After long days of hesitation, she came across the YHP and saw a conducive environment for reflection and learning.
The YHP is implemented through the peer educator model. In the program, youngsters between the ages of 18 to 24 years are educated on topics like Non-Communicable Disease prevention, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, its components, and more.
To ensure the awareness is spread to other parts of the community, YHP identifies, recruits, and trains the same members as ‘Peer Educators' as a volunteer. Further, the peer educators conduct discussions on crucial topics through designated Health Information Centers (HICs). These are knowledge hubs catering to the needs of the youth and adolescents.
HICs are set up in the unorganized colonies of project intervention areas. It is a platform for engaging young people, their parents, and stakeholders in conversations.
From sitting in a corner at the HIC, Puja overcame her hesitation and started speaking openly about menstruation issues with peer educators. She claimed that even her school teacher avoided chapters on the reproductive system but at HIC she got all the answers she needed.
She says it was a platform to learn about menstruation hygiene management and reproductive health.
Spreading the knowledge
After learning about menstrual hygiene, Puja cherished the experience and wanted to share it with her peers. She took training on NCD prevention and SRHR in the HIC and joined as a volunteer with them.
Peer educators spreading awareness
Puja said, “I am thankful to my educator at the HIC. Because of them, I was able to build the confidence to disseminate the knowledge with my peers.”
Since 2021, Puja has continuously taken sessions in HIC about sexual and reproductive health as a volunteer and has shared information on menstrual hygiene management with more than 600 young girls.
The YHP has established 15 HICs in Delhi since 2010, and further expanded to other cities including Chennai in 2019 and Bengaluru in 2021. The project has trained more than 25,00 peer educators who have in turn impacted more than four lakhs of others.