Diya was playing Lagori with the other children in her basti when her mother told her to come inside. “You’re a big girl now, you mustn’t play with those boys. Now come, and help me fold these clothes”, she was told. On Tuesday, she overheard her mother discussing with her aunt about her, “Ab toh wo badi ho gayi hai”. Her mother tore one of her old kurtis, made a few pieces from it and gave them to Diya. She told Diya to keep them somewhere where no one else could see them. Diya, all of twelve years old, did not understand what was going on. No one had told Diya that all she had done was hit puberty, a normal biological milestone that happens to everyone.
For 5 days in a month, she was made to sit in a little room and had to miss school because of discomfort. It was during the same time she had to use the rags her mother had given her. The food that she was provided with for those days was given to her separately and she could not ask anyone else to join her. Once, during Navratri, when she wanted to visit the temple with her friends to see Durga Ashtami celebrations, her mother reprimanded. “No, you can’t go to the temple for 3 days, now go to the house and sit quietly”.
Diya screamed out crying, “What has happened to me Ma? I didn't fast during Navaratris, is Durga Ma punishing me because of that?” Her mother replied, “This is what every girl goes through my dear”. In the coming year, she experienced a lot of pain in her abdomen and back. She started to feel very weak and the rags that she used caused a lot of rashes, because of which she was unable to walk and was eventually unable to attend school. After she insisted for several months, her mother took her to the government hospital in the next town and the doctor wrote down words like ‘anemic’ and ‘infection’ on the prescription note.
Diya did not understand what those words meant and kept thinking that she is being punished for something. As she started to get better, she wanted to go back to school. But her family thought it was best for her to stay at home so that she could help her mother out in the household chores, and eventually get married.
If you are reading this story and wondering how absurd it is that Diya had to give up school and her normal life just because she started menstruating, please know that she is not alone. A study conducted in Northern India showed that 62% of women had insufficient information about menstruation1; studies in other parts of India show similar numbers2-3. Lack of awareness combined with an awkwardness among mothers to discuss menstruation openly with their daughters2-3, inhibit girls from openly expressing what they are feeling. They often experience problems such as dysmenorrhea, excessive vaginal discharge, anemia and leucorrhoea because they do not get timely medical help, which in turn increases the infection. There are also incidences when girls get married at the onset of menstruation and experience early pregnancies because of lack of knowledge of their sexuality and contraception. In some cases, because of severe infections, they are unable to conceive which again leads to several social problems that affect them their entire life.
While girls in urban areas have better access to knowledge either through sessions conducted in schools or other women in the family such as cousins and siblings, girls in rural areas often have to rely on medical workers or doctors to obtain the right information. And it is surely not possible for the limited number of these healthcare professionals to reach out to the lakhs of girls out there. Therefore, some NGOs have taken it upon them to seek out girls across rural and urban India and share with them the facts as to how to manage this normal physiological phenomenon.
Indian Dreams Foundation, which has already established itself as a pioneer in social services in urban and rural slums of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, is one of them. Through its grassroots approach, it hopes to provide awareness to young girls and their mothers about hygiene management during menstruation. It works with local stakeholders to provide adequate resources such as affordable sanitary napkins, private toilets for girls in schools, periodic health check ups and ensure that menstruation in no way hinders any girl from reaching her full potential.
Author : Ms. Akhila, Editor : Ms. Vernika
1. Misra, P. et al. Natl. Med. J. India. 2013. 26(6). pp. 335-337
2. Thakre, S.B. et al. Indian Pediatrics. 2012. 49. pp. 733-736.
3. Garg, S. et al. Reproductive Health Matters. 2001. 9(17). pp. 16-25.